Inspiration Ridge Preserve Baseline Ecological Inventory-Enhancement and Continuation of 2016 Project

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

The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies has grown from an organization serving 1,000 people a year, to serving over 18,000 annually. We just completed our 25th year of operation. 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 150acre Wynn Nature Center that we have owned and operated for 26 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 – In 2016, a team from UoM completed a project to conduct an initial inventory and analysis of the ecological systems (terrestrial and aquatic) that are located on Inspiration Ridge Preserve (IRP) which included completing a baseline botany and wildlife inventory of key areas of the property and used GIS tools to produce some map overlays that could eventually help with land and resource management. Due to a limited field season, only a few high priority areas were inventoried and assessed. Additional areas need to be added to the inventory for a more complete picture of the ecological ecosystems found on Inspiration Ridge. A comparison to an existing inventory and analysis of the Wynn Nature Center property needs to be completed in preparation for integrating research and education at IRP with what is already happening at the WNC. Their final report entitled: Ecological Baseline and Management Plan for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, is an excellent starting place for a continuing project that can expand on their recommendations for protocols for monitoring and baseline data collecting. One area, in particular, that can be expanded upon is doing more anadromous stream surveys to help add to our baseline data and also the State of Alaska Anadromous Stream catalog. 

Drone Monitoring – based on the project recommendations from the previous team we would like to expand on monitoring of the property with drones. The team had these recommendations: CACS recently purchased a “DJI Phantom 3 drone capable of taking high quality photographs which would increase the ability of CACS volunteers and staff to monitor hard to reach places with much less effort and time spent in transit. The current model is not able to navigate to specific GPS points, but it can navigate to ‘waypoints.’40 The drone could be taken to specific photo points and flown so that the drone can capture and remember the point and subsequently be directed to the point from a more convenient location to capture pictures of areas of interest. Drones would also be useful for periodic flyovers of hard to reach areas to monitor for illegal activity such as logging and to monitor property lines.

In the future, additional drones may be necessary if they are used to conduct full property monitoring. Additionally, a model that can be navigated accurately to specific GPS points would be desirable.

For the purposes of monitoring habitat, results of data collected should be compared with the results of other data collection techniques (e.g. on the ground photo points) to compare accuracy. Further review of regulations and feasibility should be conducted for the purposes of potentially monitoring Sandhill Crane populations and nest sites.

  • Natural Resource Management – Based on the initial inventory and analysis of the ecological systems, an outline of recommended monitoring protocols 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 was reported. This project would expand on these recommendations specifically by adding an inventory by monitoring with drones to complete transects in less assessable areas of the property. 

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 build on the work that was done by the first team, 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 further 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.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ines Ibañez
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Kelsey Blongewicz
  • Lorena Cortes
  • Emily Finch
  • Lauren Joyal
  • Dorthea Leisman
  • Liz McLaughlin
Project Status: 
In Progress