Airboat Use and Disturbance of Floating Mat Fen Wetlands in Interior Alaska, U.S.A.


  • Charles H. Racine
  • James C. Walters
  • M. Torre Jorgenson



airboat, floating mat, Alaska, peatland, fen, wetland, disturbance


The use of airboats is expanding in Alaska, particularly in the interior. This study describes the nature, magnitude, and distribution of disturbance caused by airboat trails over floating mat fen wetlands in the Tanana Flats near Fairbanks, Alaska. Airphoto interpretation showed over 300 km of airboat trails by 1995, with a 15% expansion of the trail system since 1989. Field sampling was done at 30 trail and adjacent control sites along this trail system to assess changes in hydrology, soils, and vegetation. Water velocities in the trails at two-thirds of the sites were at least an order of magnitude greater than velocities of less than 1.5 cm/sec in the control areas. On average, 30 cm of the 0.5-0.75 m thick floating mat has been removed or eroded by airboat traffic at the sampling locations. Nearly all emergent floating mat vegetation has been destroyed (5% cover remaining on average) so that the trails resemble a highly visible open water stream channel 2-3 m wide through the floating mats. Although the recovery and regrowth potential of floating mats in trails is high, recovery is unlikely in trails with continuing use.