Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Jason Oles knows a lot about bears. He’s worked among Kodiak brown bears, Rocky Mountain grizzlies, North Slope polar bears, and Kenai Peninsula black bears, on various national parks and wildlife refuges. Now a ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, he says there are definitely a few tricks to living, working, and recreating among bears.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

It’s finally sunny and nice out, and with a three-day holiday weekend ahead, Alaskans are likely to hit the outdoors in every direction. That’s always been the case, but in the past two years, it’s been more than ever.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and most social activities were shuttered, Alaskans headed outside in record numbers. For Southcentral Alaska, that often means the Chugach National Forest, Chugach State Park and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Across those three areas, trails, cabins and campgrounds saw unprecedented use.

Alaska State Troopers

Two people are safely back in Anchorage after their plane crashed in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Monday afternoon.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Law enforcement is investigating after a man reported being bitten by a brown bear on the Upper Kenai River Trail this weekend.

A man reported the incident Sunday around 8 p.m. on the upper part of the Kenai River Trail, which starts from Skilak Lake Loop Road. According to Alaska Wildlife Troopers, the man was hiking alone with his dog when the dog chased a female bear with two cubs, causing her to charge the hiker.

There’s a mosaic of land managers on the Kenai Peninsula. But all share at least one common goal: mitigate damage from wildfires.

That was front of mind for Jeff Bouschor this last week. He’s the fire management officer for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which recently reached 100 percent containment on the lightning-caused Loon Lake Fire.

Courtesy of Division of Forestry

The Loon Lake Fire outside Sterling is now mostly contained and there hasn’t been a flare up there in several days.

That’s according to public information officer Kale Casey. He says crews have finished putting a fireline and hose line around the fire.

“We’re not actually fighting fire. We are at 70 percent containment," Casey said. "And we have 62 people. We still have 102 acres.”

Courtesy of Kale Casey

Officials say the Loon Lake Fire outside Sterling is under control and that they have no concerns about it escaping at this time.

Fire crews are finishing up both a hose line to pump in water around the fire and a fireline on its perimeter, said public information officer Kale Casey.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Two kayakers paddled six miles to safety across Skilak Lake after they were mauled by a bear early Saturday morning.

Jamie Nelson, of Kenai, was at the Upper Skilak Lake Campground when the kayakers pulled up around 2 a.m..

“Six miles for two hours after being mauled by bears. That’s the part of the story I just can't wrap my head around," he said.

Courtesy of Kris Inman

Before moving here, Kris Inman had never been to Alaska. But when the supervisory biologist position opened up at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge … 

“Well, I saw the job announcement and thought, ‘What a fantastic job,'" she said.

Inman joins the refuge staff by way of Montana, where she worked for the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society. She’s replacing John Morton, who was supervisory biologist at the refuge for almost two decades.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates Jim’s Landing sees about 42,000 visitors a year. It’s the only ramp for putting in and taking out of the Kenai River between Russian River and Skilak Lake.

But the infrastructure at the launch isn’t really up to the task.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

It was morel mushroom mania on the Kenai Peninsula last summer. The 2019 Swan Lake Fire left behind perfect conditions for the brown-capped mushrooms to grow, including in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which saw a large portion of the burn.

The second year after a burn is never as good as the first, morel-wise. But there’s still hope for mushroom hunters this summer.

Steer clear of thin ice

Feb 19, 2021
Stephen Robertson

At one point or another most winters, a car finds itself at the bottom of a partly frozen lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

That’s what happened the first weekend of February, when a 2015 Chevy pickup fell through the ice of Skilak Lake.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Safari Club International is appealing a decision from a federal judge to uphold hunting and trapping restrictions in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The hunting advocacy group hopes the court will reconsider the November ruling, said Regina Lennox, litigation counsel for SCI.

Trim trees free of fees

Nov 30, 2020
Courtesy of Leah Eskelin

Depending on who you ask, holiday decorations are fair game the moment the turkey leaves the table.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge certainly seems to think so. It opened to Christmas tree harvesting Thanksgiving Day.

“It’s probably good to note that it’s not just any tree, anywhere," said Leah Eskelin, a lead project ranger and visitors center manager for the refuge.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The decision by Federal Judge Sharon Gleason to uphold Obama-era regulations in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge comes amidst a months-long effort by the state and hunting advocates to change those regulations, as well as a concurrent effort to keep them in place.

This summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed changes to existing refuge rules that include allowing hunting brown bears over bait and remove trapping setbacks from trails and trailheads, among others. The service is currently sifting through the tens of thousands of comments it received in response — most in opposition.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

A federal judge has upheld restrictions on hunting and brown bear baiting in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, thwarting attempts by hunting advocates and the state to overturn the Obama-era “Kenai Rule.”

The Kenai Rule was established in 2016 to regulate hunting and trapping on the refuge. It restricts brown bear baiting within the refuge, hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and firearm discharge along the Kenai and Russian Rivers, among other measures.

Shortly after the rule was passed, the state of Alaska and Safari Club International filed cases against the Department of the Interior, arguing that the restrictions preempted state management of wildlife on these lands.

Fish & Wildlife Service

Construction to the Salamatof Boat Launch in Soldotna will start Monday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will fortify the underwater cables that hold the concrete piers of the launch in place, in addition to building a better turnaround area, so users can launch their boats without having to back out.

They’re also going to improve the parking area, says Matt Conner, visitor services manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Courtesy of Mike Amos

Electronic bikes — or e-bikes — occupy a sort of purgatory when it comes to outdoor recreation — not motorcycles but not really traditional bicycles, either.

Their place on trails is also in the gray zone. Several federal agencies classify pedal-assist e-bikes within the “bicycle” category, so they’re permitted where bikes are allowed. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, allows both bikes and e-bikes on roads and the new multi-use trail in Soldotna, while prohibiting both on all other trails. The Kenai Fjords National Park, under the National Park Service, functions similarly.

Here on the peninsula, pedal-assist e-bikes are allowed on Tsalteshi Trails, in Soldotna. In Anchorage, they’re permitted on all bike paths as of 2016.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is opening certain areas to personal firewood collection. 

Starting today, those with permits may collect up to five cords of firewood for noncommercial use. People can pick up a free permit anytime at a self-serve station at refuge headquarters in Soldotna. Permits are good until March 31, 2021.

The refuge is opening to firewood collection earlier than usual this year. The season normally begins mid-October, said Leah Eskelin, a lead project ranger and visitors center manager for the refuge.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Three trailheads are better than one. At least that’s the guiding philosophy behind the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s new Ski Hill Road Multi-Use Trail, which opened to the public Saturday.

The trail winds through the woods between the Sterling Highway and Ski Hill Road in Soldotna, covering a bit over a mile and a half on an 8-foot path. It’s accessible from three points — on the south side of Ski Hill Road, near Skyview Middle School; on the north end of that road, near Spenard Building Supply; and at the refuge’s visitor’s center.

 


Forest Service-USDA

Today is the deadline to submit comments on proposed regulation changes affecting the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The changes would allow the state of Alaska to regulate trapping on the refuge, which would do away with the requirement of an orientation class and a buffer zone disallowing trapping around trails and trailheads. It would allow baiting as a harvest method for brown bears in areas where baiting is already allowed for black bears. Use of bicycles and game carts would be allowed for the first time on the refuge. The discharge of firearms would be allowed along areas of the Kenai and Russian Rivers in the fall and winter. And ice-fishing lakes would be open to snowmachines and ATVs in the winter when there’s adequate snow and ice cover.

Patrick Quiner/Alaska Division of Forestry

Two more trails that were damaged by the Swan Lake Fire last year have reopened.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge announce Friday that the lower Kenai River Trail and the Seven Lakes trails are now open to the public again after crews finished mitigating the damage. Both trails were in the heart of the burn zone for the massive Swan Lake Fire last year, and have been closed all summer so far.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula is seeing some of its most beautiful weather of the year right around now, which is getting a lot of people outside. But it’s also getting the bears out, and where they overlap with people, there can be trouble.

On Sunday, a brown bear was reported to have bluff charged a hiker on the Skilak Lookout trail off Skilak Lake Road. No one was reportedly hurt, but running into a bear can be scary. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin says some are taking actions like firing warning shots into the air to scare off bears, but that’s not the best way to go.

Proposed regulation revisions would change access and hunting opportunities on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. John Morton, retired refuge supervisory biologist, Rick Johnston, retired refuge law enforcement officer, pilot and ranger, and David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska Refuges, talk about what the changes would mean on the refuge. Click here to read the proposed changes and comment by Aug. 10.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Several popular trails closed after being damaged by the Swan Lake Fire last year are reopening to the public.

The Skyline Trail, which takes hikers up a steep mile to the tops of the Mystery Hills, and Hideout Trail, which takes off from near the eastern entrance of Skilak Lake Road, are now open again. Fuller Lakes Trail has been open this year up to the lower lake, but closed up to the upper lake. That upper part is now open as well. All three trails are popular but were closed due to extensive damage during the fires in 2019.

Alaska Division of Forestry

The first ghost of the Swan Lake Fire showed up on Tuesday east of Soldotna.

With big wildland fires that burn deep into the terrain, pockets of hot material can remain, even into the next year. These hotspots can then ignite and cause a secondary burn, called a holdover fire.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

A federal rule change is in the works that would increase hunting and access opportunities on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The modification of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules would more closely align state and federal regulations on national refuges in Alaska, following a 2017 Trump administration order.

The new rules were published in the Federal Register on Thursday and are open for public comment for 60 days. The changes would allow hunting brown bears over bait on the refuge. Trappers would no longer need to get a refuge-specific permit, which requires a seldom-offered orientation class. The discharge of firearms would be allowed along the Kenai and Russian rivers from Nov. 1 to April 30. There would be more access for snowmachines, ATVs and utility vehicles on ice-fishing lakes and there would be more allowance for bikes and game carts.

Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says the state sees this as a rightful return to state management of wildlife.

“Unlike most other states in the union, Alaska is one of the only ones that the federal government steps in and manages wildlife when it’s really a state’s rights issue,” Green said.

Morel season just about to heat up in Swan Lake burn

May 14, 2020
Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Last year, the Swan Lake Fire took away a lot of opportunity for outdoor activities across the western Kenai Peninsula. But, like many wildfires, it leaves behind a gift: morel mushrooms.

“After wildland fire, you end up with the conditions that are kind of ripe for welcoming morel mushrooms. We’ve had really large fires on the Kenai Peninsula in the past that have been very productive with morels,” said Leah Eskelin, park ranger for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Morels, which grow across northern climates and have conical, brown caps, are highly sought after by mushroom hunters. Why? They can’t be bought commercially, and they’re delicious. They’re also notoriously hard to find.


Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Hikers: Just because daylight is increasing and snow is receding, that does not mean every trail is ready for foot traffic. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is asking people to stay off trails during breakup that sustained damage in last year’s Swan Lake Fire.

Alaska Division of Forestry

Here are two crises that are bad enough on their own — a worldwide pandemic and wildfires.

The Alaska Division of Forestry is taking proactive steps to try to prevent those two situations from overlapping. 

Forestry announced Tuesday that all burn permits in the state will be suspended May 1. This is applicable to small- and large-scale burning on state, municipal and private lands.

Pages