With the state facing a budget deficit of at least three and a half billion dollars, many programs face cuts and even closure, and the Kodiak Soil and Water Conservation District is feeling the pressure. The organization does outreach and community projects related to water and soil in Kodiak, and project coordinator Blythe Brown explains the group is under the Department of Natural Resources.
“We have to report our activities to the state and our financial statements all go to Alaska DNR, but we’re not state employees. We’re not an actual state – full-fledged state entity with any regular funding. We get $2,500 every year from DNR to do everything that they say we have to do.”
Brown says most of their projects are grant-funded and she says those grants can only go so far towards supporting the entire organization.
“Anybody that gives away money wants to give away money to get things done for the actual project, and they don’t want to support all those indirects. Like, my fish and wildlife invasive plants funding, they don’t want to pay me to fill the staplers for working on the community garden. It’s not fair to them. They want their money to go to invasive plant work.”
And some KSWCD projects have already taken a hit. The Mercury Deposition Network gathers rainwater samples throughout the country to test for mercury content, and Brown says Kodiak is vulnerable to contamination.
“We are actually the first station that some of the weather systems coming across from China… so the coal plants in China might be putting mercury into the air, and then it comes across in the water systems, and then our station would detect it.”
Brown says that the Kodiak station recently closed, and it’s possible KSWCD itself could reach that point.
“Soil and water conservation districts across the country get their funding in a variety of ways. Some places have county taxes that support their districts or resource fees, user fees. I know right now they’re talking about getting user fees for the parks to keep the parks open here. In Alaska and in Kodiak we don’t have any user fees that can support agriculture or natural resource protection here.”
She says they’ve already cut the administrative assistant’s work schedule back to a few hours per week. However, budget issues aren’t stopping KSWCD from hosting new events. As a replacement for a lost program and with the help of state sponsorship, Brown says they’re working on planning an Arbor Day event this year to observe the fiftieth anniversary of Arbor Day in Alaska.