Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge
The world’s densest population of one of the world’s largest land carnivores is on ruggedly beautiful Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge, called Alaska’s Emerald Isle, said to be as green as anyplace on earth. Along with huge Kodiak bears—largest subspecies of the brown or grizzly— are hundreds of majestic bald eagles flourishing in a northern ecosystem rivaling in splendor and abundance that of the tropics. Reindeer graze with Sitka black-tailed deer, snowshoe hares, mountain goats, beavers, and more than 200 kinds of birds, land-based as well as oceanic.
Pacific salmon of five species—pink, sockeye, coho, king, chum—return in waves of hundreds of thousands to spawn in lakes and streams brimming from June to October, furnishing rich diets to present and future generations.
Dozens of the 2,700 bears on the refuge may gather along a few miles of streambed during peak runs, upright males standing nine feet (3 m) tall and weighing 1,400 pounds (635 kg). More than 200 pairs of majestic bald eagles nest here and bring the fall population up to 1,000 or so.
Playful otters and weasels den under refuge cabins. Foxes often are the handsome silver and multihued “cross” color phases of the red.
Whales, porpoises, sea otters, seals, and Steller’s sea lions feed in estuaries with (and sometimes on) tens of thousands of seabirds which return in spring to nest on shores and cliffs of nearby islands—sooty and short-tailed shearwaters, pelagic and red-faced cormorants, blacklegged kittiwakes, murres, pigeon guillemots, and horned and tufted puffins.
Tundra swans and goshawks nest. So, commonly, do black oystercatchers, surfbirds, glaucous- winged gulls, marbled murrelets, lapland longspurs, snow buntings, and willow and rock ptarmigans. Some of these are year-round residents.
Hardier species leave to nest farther north—many in YUKON DELTA (see p.472)—and return for the winter, well over a million birds including debonair oldsquaws, Steller’s eiders, whitewinged and surf scoters, and emperor geese.
Wildflowers are abundant in this mild, moist climate where temperatures seldom fall to 0°F (–17°C) in winter and only rarely rise to 80°F (27°C) in summer—orchids, irises, fields of fireweed, shooting stars, Indian paintbrush, with thousands of fruiting salmonberries, elderberries,blueberries, against a backdrop of 4,000-foot (1,220-m) mountains, hundreds of lakes and 800 miles (1,290 km) of dramatic fiordlike inlets. Afognak Island on the northwest corner has dense stands of virgin Sitka spruce forest.
To get there, fly to Kodiak from Anchorage or take a ferry from Seward or Homer. Visitor center is on the airport road to the town of Kodiak where there are motels, rental cars, charter planes, and boats for hire. Cabins can be reserved (plan well ahead) on refuge and in nearby Fort Abercrombie State Park. There are bear-viewing platforms.
CAUTION: Hiking is not easy nor facilities plush. Take raingear and hipboots. Kodiak is wet, wonderful and much of it as wild as when Russian explorer Vitus Bering sailed by in 1741 without noticing it in the fog.