The Department of Transportation's brush-cutting activity is making Kenai Peninsula roads more dangerous for moose/vehicle collisions. The DOT is clear cutting the entire right of way from Soldotna to Homer with a three-year cycle recutting plan. DOT has already clear cut 200 feet on the east side and 100 feet on the west side of the Sterling Highway from Ninilchik north 10 miles.
DOT's justification for clear cutting the entire right of way, which is not backed by any science or studies, is that there will be less moose/vehicle collisions because of better visibility and the trees won't be shading the road to allow solar ice melting. Both reasonings are flawed and lack scientific analysis.
DOT has not contacted the Department of Fish and Game to develop a professional scientific brush cutting program that would actually be effective nor did they have any public meetings to gather the public input and the concerns from the affected land owners. I was told their plan was developed within their department, void of outside expertise, and that their plan was going to continue even though the science shows their plan will cause more moose/vehicle collisions. I was told if 75 feet was adequate then 200 feet would be better.
If DOT had confided with ADF&G and the public, they would have learned that the science shows clear cutting the entire width of the right of way will lead to more moose/vehicle accidents than we currently have. This excessive clearing will result in an abundance of regrowth vegetation that will actually attract moose to local roads. DOT's plan to mow on a three-year cycle in late fall and early winter will dramatically enhance the regrowth of browse resulting in attracting more moose and vehicle accidents.
The professional brush cutting plan developed by game biologist to provide the utmost safety for people and moose is four steps: 1. Clear road right a way out to 75 feet from the center line which is adequate to spot moose and reduces cost of maintenance by at least half. 2. Using a dozer, grade right-a-way to minimize mowing effort and reduce shadows that "hide" moose. 3. Mow right a way annually in late June. Cutting browse in late June, at full leaf out, will reduce the plants' vigor and production the following year. 4. Investigate the cost savings in maintenance between annual mowing and replanting with a low growing, perennial (e.g. boreal fescue) that moose will not eat.
Trees shading the road issue is unfounded simply by using physics. Alaska is in the high latitudes where the sun doesn't get high enough from Nov. 10 until Feb.10 to have enough solar energy to melt ice. We also have a lot of cloudy days. East and west roads aren't shaded; therefore, DOT should only cut the problem areas not the whole road system. Isn't DOT supposed to use sand and salt to keep the ice down and not be relying on the sun? Also the mature dense alders and spruce groves actually shade the ground preventing the growth of moose vegetation.
These same alder and spruce groves are a great sound, visual and wind barrier for the home owners against the ever increasing vehicle traffic noise and heating cost.
We all know people who are dead, paralyzed or badly injured from hitting moose. For safety reasons we deserve to have our entire road system brushed 75 feet from the center line at least every year or two. Cutting 300 feet in an 18-mile section, while not cutting 50 or more miles of road at all for three to five years, is not providing safety for the public nor is it a prudent use of brush cutting funds. There will never be enough funds to cut the entire right of way annually.
The brush hasn't been cut from south of Clam Gulch to Soldotna and other areas on the peninsula for two to four years. It hasn't been cut in the steep gullies below the guard rails for 10 to 20 years. The last warm stretch we had icy roads with little to no sand. If we do nothing to correct these issues the roads will be clear cut 300 feet from Ninilchik to two miles North of Clam Gulch but they will not be cut all the way to Soldotna for at least a year or two or even more. The spruce bark beetle devastated our spruce forest now DOT is cutting thousands of live trees unnecessarily. So much for Arbor Day.
Please call the commissioner of DOT, Pat Kemp, at (907) 465-3900.