Inspiration Ridge Preserve Base-line Ecological Inventory and Environmental Education Enhancement Plan (2017)

Client Organization: 
Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies
Project Location : 
Homer, Alaska
Summary of Project Idea: 

The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies has grown from an organization serving 1,000 people a year, to serving over 12,000 annually. Our organization and facilities are well-placed to work with you, as while we have a ‘wish list’ of general and specific assistance requests, we can be flexible to accommodate student and faculty interests as they intersect with our organization’s mission and our activities. At this stage of our growth, we are excited that such a program as you offer can help our success and shape our next steps.

What we offer is a newly donated 640-acre wildlife “preserve” known as Inspiration Ridge Preserve (IRP) located on the bluff above Homer. It is near our 145acre Wynn Nature Center that we have owned and operated for 25 years. This newly donated large piece of property offers us an opportunity for an expanded education and research facility that is not quite off-the-grid, but somewhat isolated while being connected to a variety of Alaskan habitats.

Inspiration Ridge Preserve possess natural varied wildlife habitat which are of great importance to CACS, the Grantor of the property, the people of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and the people of the State of Alaska. IRP constitutes a valuable geographic and biological element of the Homer bluff vicinity and contains important habitat for native wildlife and flora. In particular, it contains valuable riparian willow habitat, a bog, and many steep ravines and springs. Extensive grasslands interspersed with spruce and alder thickets throughout IRP are heavily used by moose. It provides an important corridor for wildlife, including moose and bear, between the Anchor River/Fritz Creek Critical Habitat Area to the north and the Homer bluff and bench to the south and with state land and other adjacent private parcels that are being protected. It is of sufficient size and character that its conservation values are likely to remain intact and become even more important as neighboring properties are developed. CACS has committed to confine the use of the IRP property to activities associated with non-profit activities for public education about Sandhill Cranes, habitat protection, and wildlife corridor values.

While we are excited to discuss specific opportunities on this preserve with you, there are some opportunities that we see immediately:

  • Ecological – inventory and analysis of the ecological systems (terrestrial and aquatic) that are located on Inspiration Ridge Preserve (IRP) which would include completing a baseline botany and wildlife inventory and using GIS tools to produce map overlays to help with land and resource management. These would be compared to an existing inventory and analysis of the Wynn Nature Center property in preparation for integrating research and education at IRP with what is already happening at the WNC. 
  • Natural Resource Management – Based on the inventory and analysis of the ecological systems, assist with the development of monitoring protocol that could be used on an annual basis to promote stewardship of the IRP and that is comparable to other stewardship monitoring protocols on conservation easements in the area.

Baseline data gathered will help address the questions about what ecological changes will happen with climate change in the near future and over time. Without this baseline inventory it is impossible to measure change. To help begin to explore this idea, we will work with the students to provide local resources on changes that have occurred in vegetation with the spruce bark beetle infestation that occurred 15 years ago on the Kenai Peninsula and see if any of these changes are being seen on the IRP property.

  • Curriculum - Enhancing our current educational programs and curricula to focus more on the conservation of wildlife corridors and protection of habitat for bird migratory species such as the Sandhill Crane with the ultimate goal of promoting greater appreciation of preserving and maintaining habitat for biodiversity.
  • Curriculum –Incorporating the IRP property into curricula on wildlife, biodiversity and habitat protection and also offer more learning and experience opportunities by expanding into the area of Sandhill Crane/Crane education. IRP is a staging ground for hundreds of migrating Sandhill cranes each spring and fall and a haven for a small local population of Sandhill cranes. In some years an active breeding pair that has spent the entire summer on the property raising their young. The current owners of IRP have spent over 20 years researching and documenting Sandhill Crane behavior and are anxious to share this information and have it incorporated into an ongoing educational opportunity for locals and visitors.

We are excited to have the potential opportunity to expand our educational curriculum to incorporate the exploration of the importance of wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity. This is a huge issue with development in the “lower 48” because so many major migration corridors have been cut off by highways and dense development and fences. We have a good opportunity here to develop understanding of the importance of corridors for the seasonal migration of wildlife. There is a need for the community to explore this question and identify important areas that animals use. This is a large concept to explore, but it is an apt question to answer when one already has a corridor established as we do at IRP. It is important for people to understand why organizations work to keep corridors, such as the IRP, with partnering agencies and other non-profit landholders, and perhaps other willing, cooperative private landowners.

Aside from additional opportunities that could be discussed, we see that a team would work with CACS staff and local professionals to complete a habitat map of the portion of the 640 acres of IRP not designated as conservation easements through the local Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, highlighting the ecological processes found on these acres, observe the flow of bird and wildlife use on the trails and in surrounding meadows, in order to access the feasibility of a proposed ecotour type program for visitors and local schools, and help develop a site-based curriculum that reflects the potential for expanding programing based on the incorporation of this new piece of property.

Of particular benefit to your students and faculty is the involvement of Alaskan professionals during your site visit. We have commitment from a variety of people to be available to meet with your students and assist them with their own curriculum goals. This includes a wildlife biologist, retired botanist, land trust managers, and access to others as might be beneficial. We have excellent local resources in Homer for expertise, and a community that is highly engaged. We will make sure we are available to you.

The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies is a non-profit organization whose main mission is to foster responsible interactions with our natural surroundings and to generate knowledge of the marine and coastal ecosystems of Kachemak Bay through science-based education and stewardship programs. Our vision is to cultivate environmental stewards who preserve the natural world for future generations.

CACS began in 1982 by providing springtime residential school field trips for Alaskan students and expanded the next year with daily natural history tours during the summer. More than 33 years later, the organization has 400 supporting members, five year-round and ten seasonal professional staff, and more than 100 active volunteers. The land and facility base includes four acres surrounding the Peterson Bay Field Station across Kachemak Bay; 145 acres of boreal forest habitats, a trail system, two cabins and the original log home built by Carl E. Wynn at the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center on the bluff above Homer; an administrative headquarters building in downtown Homer; and a seasonal facility on the Homer Spit. Our award-winning Alaska Coastal Ecology program is a unique, multi-day experience that has proven to have a long-lasting impact on students. In a typical spring season CACS conducts over 50 Coastal Ecology, Oceanography, and Wetlands Education programs to over 35 classes from 27 schools from eighteen communities. These schools have come from as far away as Tok, Valdez and Akutan. In the summer we provide tours, camps and daily programs to over 8,000 people through personal interactions that engage, connect and inspire participants to care about the environment.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 
  • Knowledge of GIS 
  • Botany and/or wildlife education
  • Ecology and conservation practices
  • Environmental or outdoor education
  • Writing and communication skills

Additional skills needed include: an interest in learning and an aptitude for working with a variety of people, multi-tasking, and the ability to be self-directed. When conducting field work, students must be comfortable living and working in a semi-rustic situation.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
Role for each program area: 

Conservation Ecology: This will be useful for conducting the baseline monitoring of the IRP property and developing the monitoring protocol for continued land and resource management. Students will need to be able to identify plant species and communities, habitat types and identify signs of wildlife use in a habitat area.

Behavior, education and communication: This will be useful in helping to expand the existing curricula to incorporate wildlife corridors, habitat protection and Sandhill crane education with the ultimate goal of encouraging behavior change in land conservation and habitat protection policies and actions.

Sustainable systems: CACS strives to be a sustainable non-profit organization. Knowledge in sustainable systems will help with the long term planning and vision of the incorporation of Inspiration Ridge Preserve into the operations (programs, facilities and land management/stewardship) of our organization.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Planning and development of nature preserves and nature centers provides for a very large range of career benefits. This project can be approached from many angles, and will benefit from an integrated approach that reflects the ideal methodology for private and academic consultation. Particular knowledge includes (but is definitely not limited to) community and population ecology, aquatic biology, interpretive design, project management, resource management, facility management, sustainable development, etc… The skills and experience learned here will be of direct benefit to academic departments, companies and consulting firms that seek to undertake similar tasks.  Additional career opportunities include the opportunity to work with experts in multiple fields.

Funding Sources: 

CACS can provide transportation to and from Anchorage, Alaska as well as housing and living expenses for the period of time require for conducting field work on site.   We will also provide access to expert volunteers, such as scientists at the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve and Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge, among others. At this time we cannot cover airfare to and from Anchorage, Alaska but will continue to explore potential funding opportunities if we are selected as a client.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 
  • Inventory and analysis mapping for the site (natural and human centered)
  • Baseline report similar to ones produced by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust (or a similar land trust organization) and a protocol design for continued monitoring of the site.
  • Site-based curriculum recommendations reflecting expanded programing centered on the importance of wildlife corridors, habitat protection for biodiversity and Sandhill Crane education.
Contact full name: 
Elizabeth Trowbridge
Job title: 
Executive Director
City: 
Homer
State or Country: 
Alaska
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Bill Currie
Contact Phone: 
907-235-6756
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
Our Organization has been an SNRE master's project client in a previous year
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Christina Carlson, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Alexandra Clayton, MS Conservation Ecology 
  • Joshua Flickinger, MS Conservation Ecology/Environmental Informatics 
  • Yifan He, MS Conservation Ecology
  • Sarah Turner, MS Conservation Ecology 
Project Status: 
Past Project