Home of the Kodiak brown bear, this refuge provides important habitat for diverse wildlife
The 1.9 million acre Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which covers the southern two-thirds of Kodiak Island, all of Ban and Uganik Islands and a small section of Afognak Island, is the chief stronghold of the Alaska brown bear.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 “for the purpose of protecting the natural feeding and breeding range of the brown bears and other wildlife on Uganik and Kodiak Islands, Alaska.” About 1.987 million acres were included within the refuge boundary. A one-mile coastal strip of refuge remained open to public land laws. The Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA) added 50,000 acres of land on Afognak and Ban Islands to the refuge. Thorough the 1990s, nearly 275,000 acres of valuable wildlife habitat were reacquired through purchase or donation of fee title, conservation easement and limited development easements.
The Kodiak Wildlife Refuge provides diverse habitats that encompass 117 salmon-bearing streams, 16 lakes, riparian wetlands, grasslands, shrub lands, spruce forest, tundra and alpine meadows. No place on the refuge is more than 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean where mountains rise 4,000 feet from a shoreline accented with misty fiords, deep glacial valleys and lofty mountains.
The climate of Kodiak Island is dominated by a strong marine influence and characterized by moderately heavy precipitation, cool temperatures and cloudy days. This makes hypothermia for visitors on the island a concern year-round.
The Kodiak bear, a subspecies of the brown bear, is the largest land carnivore in the world. Males normally weigh in at more than 800 lbs. but have been known to exceed 1500 lbs. Females usually weigh in at 400 lbs. to 600 lbs. An estimated 2300 bears reside in the refuge for one of the world's highest densities. From mid-July to mid-September the bears congregate at streams to gorge themselves on spawning salmon. The runs are so heavy that the bears often become selective, and many feast only on females and then eat only the belly portion containing the eggs.
The bird life is also prolific in the refuge. More than 250 species of birds live upon or visit the refuge, while more than 1.5 million seabirds winter in near-shore waters surrounding Kodiak Island. Nesting within the refuge are 600 breeding pairs of eagles. Flowing out of the steep fjords and deep glacial valleys and into the sea are 117 salmon-bearing streams that support all five species of Pacific salmon and account for 65 percent of the total commercial salmon harvest in Kodiak.
The refuge is renowned for bear viewing and hunting for trophy brown bears while the Karluk River and the Ayakulik River offer world-class fishing opportunities for salmon and steelhead fishing. Other recreational opportunities include kayaking, rafting and camping.
Within the city of Kodiak is the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center with an exhibit room that focuses primarily on the Kodiak brown bear along with a video room, a bookstore and a friendly staff that can assist in setting up trips into preserve. Scattered within the refuge are nine public-use cabins, none accessible by road. Most are reached by float plane with the closest ones to the city of Kodiak being Uganik Lake Cabin and Veikoda Bay Cabin. Also located within and around the refuge are several fishing lodges and bear-viewing camps.
The vast majority of visitors view the brown bears with bear-viewing flights that are offered by most charter air operators in Kodiak. The average tour is a four-hour trip that includes two hours on the ground photographing bears at a place like Frazer Lake, home of huge sockeye salmon runs where visitors often end up watching a half dozen bears feed at once.
There are no entry fees for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge but there is a nightly fee for renting the public-use cabins. The cabins are reserved through a series of lotteries throughout the year. If all dates are not booked in the lottery, the open dates are booked by phone on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact the refuge visitors center for more information. A free refuge permit is also required by anglers accessing the Karluk River via Koniag Easement Land. Accessibility: No roads enter the refuge, and no maintained trails lie within it. Access into the park is by charter plane or boat out of the city of Kodiak, and most of the refuge lies at least 25 air miles away. Kodiak Island is accessible by commercial airlines from Anchorage or ferry through the Alaska Marine Highway System.
For more information contact Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center (907-487-2600, 888-408-3514; kodiak.fws.gov) located five miles south of downtown Kodiak. The best source of outfitters, fishing lodges and charter air operators is the Kodiak Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (907-486-4782, 800-789-4782; kodiak.org).