Kasilof River Wetlands – Alaska
The Kasilof River is one of the most ecologically significant rivers on Alaska’s famous Kenai Peninsula. Its glacially-colored turquoise waters connect the Gulf of Alaska to the 73,400-acre Tustumena Lake and the Harding Icefield high in the Kenai Mountains.
At its mouth, the Kasilof River Flats Important Bird Area (IBA) — one of Audubon Society’s global-priority IBAs — is a rich estuarine delta. The estuary and near-shore areas provide habitat for seabirds, while tidal ponds and sloughs provide important stopover feeding areas for migrant waterfowl and shorebirds. An astonishing 165 bird species have been observed in the Kasilof River Flats, including 37 identified by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
In 2021, The Conservation Fund took the initiative to further protect this extraordinary habitat and purchased the largest remaining private property on the Kasilof River. Known locally as the “Dinosaur Parcel” for its unique shape, the 309-acre tract makes up 20 percent of the Kasilof River Flats IBA and contains 2.25 miles of the river’s shoreline. Our ownership temporarily eliminates any threats of harm or development. However, the Dinosaur Parcel is in need of permanent protection. In 2023, The Conservation Fund worked with the State of Alaska to add the property to the state park system and ensure its important habitats are preserved forever.
Public ownership by Alaskans made both ecologic and economic sense. In addition to providing extraordinary bird habitat, the Kasilof River system supports abundant Sockeye, Chinook, Pink and Coho salmon, including Cook Inlet’s second largest annual return of Sockeye salmon with as many as 1.7 million fish. These salmon are the cornerstone for subsistence, recreational, and commercial fisheries in Cook Inlet. An average of 5.1 million salmon are harvested annually from Upper Cook Inlet. In fact, a 2008 economic evaluation found that sport and personal-use salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet generate roughly 3,400 jobs and produce $104 to $118 million in annual income.
The salmon are also key prey species for the Cook Inlet beluga whale. Cook Inlet belugas, which have co-existed with people since the first indigenous hunters and fishermen came to Cook Inlet, hold an important place in the regional ecosystem. In 2008, Cook Inlet belugas were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Kasilof River salmon are critical-prey species for belugas and the Kasilof River estuary is designated Critical Habitat.
The Dinosaur Parcel protection project received generous funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, a competitive grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation Program, Pacific Birds Habitat Joint Venture, the Alaska Conservation Foundation and anonymous private individuals.