Climate Action Needed in Kenai Peninsula Borough Plan

KBCS Urges Climate Action on the Kenai Peninsula Now

It is clear that rapid warming threatens our way of life and our economy on the Kenai Peninsula, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Plan 2019 must take on this difficult issue if it is to protect the interests and safety of the public. Thankfully, there are roadmaps available, as cities, boroughs, states, and countries across the world are taking decisive steps to mitigate climate change and to monitor regional changes that maximize the effectiveness of local adaptation. The Kenai Peninsula must follow in the footsteps of these responsible governments. We hope you will take a moment to review a few salient measures of the scope of the challenge faced by all residents of the Kenai Peninsula:

• Over the past half-century, annual available water has declined 55% on the western Kenai Peninsula; wetlands have decreased 6—11% per decade in surface area on the Kenai Lowlands.

• Ocean acidification will continue to damage vital nurseries for many fish stocks in Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet, which in turn will harm tourism, substance, commercial fisheries, and our basic way of life here.

• In the absence of adaptation efforts, damage to public infrastructure caused by climate change could cost Alaska $142 to $181 million per year and a cumulative $4.2 to $5.5 billion by the end of the century.

• There is a projected 66-percent increase in the estimated value of human structures (e.g. homes, businesses) that are at risk to fire in the next half century on the Kenai Peninsula. Estimated costs due to increased wildfires across Alaska are $1.1 to $2.1 billion annually from 2006 through the end of the century.

• The Caribou Hills was the epicenter of a spruce bark beetle outbreak that eventually killed ~1 million acres of Sitka, white and Lutz spruce on the Kenai Peninsula from the mid-1980s through 1990s, sustained by consecutive summers of above-average temperatures. Spruce   bark beetle’s range is expanding as the state warms, and the scale of outbreaks is increasing.  

• Erosion rates on Eastern shores of Cook Inlet are 1 foot per year, and 2.3 feet per year on the western Homer area.

• The effects of the changing climate have the potential to impact the sustainability of Alaska’s fish and wildlife resources and are beginning to impact Alaska’s natural systems and the uses they sustain.

• Treeline has risen 1m per year on the Kenai Mountains, and shrubline an astounding 2.8m per year.

• The Harding Icefield has decreased 11% in surface area and 21m in average elevation.  

• Current trends indicate that the southern Kenai Peninsula will loose 10-20% of our snowpack by 2030-2059.

The above measures are only a snapshot of what we must face, and they all have broad and profound implications to our economy and way of life. The Comprehensive Plan 2019 does not do enough to mitigate the hazards associated with climate change,  and we implore the committee to act responsibly and take action. The following changes to the plan are needed:

  • Form a Kenai Peninsula Borough Commission on Sustainability.
  • Have the Commission on Sustainability create a Renewable Energy Strategy.
  • Join Anchorage, Juneau and the Fairbanks North Star Borough in developing a Climate Action Plan that includes a “framework for selecting, monitoring, and sharing indicators that track 1) environmental changes associated with climate change, 2) impacts of climate change at a neighborhood-level, and 3) adaptation measures and their effectiveness.”
  • Join hundreds of cities and boroughs across the country and commit to transition to renewable energy (in Alaska, both Anchorage and Juneau have made commitments).
  • Drought must be added to the hazard list on the 2019 All-Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Read our full comments to the borough here.