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Sci-Friday: Fairbanks habitat restoration project, 15 years in the making nears completion

Published: Oct. 2, 2020 at 5:04 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -In the 1930s, Cripple Creek was diverted from its original natural channel to facilitate mining operations; but as Interior Alaska Land Trust Board of Directors member Owen Guthrie explains, they have been working to reroute water from the Cripple Creek ditch back into its original channel to restore this habitat.

“There was a lot of placer mining in and around Ester and Goldhill, and all that sediment laden overburden was washing back into the Chena River. That’s what the Chena Pump House was for, to bring that water over the top of Chena Ridge.” Guthrie said.

Many species benefit from the original habitat, as it provides more opportunity to feed and hide from predators. “Since the mid 1930s the drain has been where Cripple Creek has been flowing rather than in its historic stream channel, which is much better habitat for all the fish species that live in Cripple Creek, which I think is seven species of fish, including juvenile Chinook and juvenile chum salmon,” Guthrie said.

This project has involved the work of many partners including U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Conservation Fund, the Department of Transportation, and many non-profits.

“It’s got community benefits on the financial side as well as ecosystem benefits on the habitat side. It’s a great community builder. It’s also brought a lot of money to Fairbanks in the form of contract work, engineering work, to bring these restoration projects to fruition. And it will also have some community value in terms of the habitat restored for the seven fish species that live in Cripple Creek, as well as the moose, small mammals and birds that use this wetland area." Guthrie said.

While it’s not running now, by late fall or early spring these culverts will flow as the creek restoration is completed.

“We’re right there at the end of this project. We’re gonna redirect flow from the drain coming from Ester back into the historic channel.” Guthrie said.

Soon this habitat will once regain a form not seen in 90 years.

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