Refuge Notebook

The beauty and expansiveness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge seen from an unmanned aircraft in the upper Kenai River and Skilak Lake. (Photo by Mark Laker, USFWS)

Refuge Notebook: Conserving wild places and wild things

I don’t know about you, but public lands play an important role in my life. They are where I learned to hunt and where we… Continue reading

The beauty and expansiveness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge seen from an unmanned aircraft in the upper Kenai River and Skilak Lake. (Photo by Mark Laker, USFWS)
Melting ice patch in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. (Photo provided by National Park Service)

Refuge Notebook: Ice patch archaeology

Alaska’s mountains and glaciers are beautiful to observe, and many of us enjoy summertime hikes and backpacking among the peaks. Some hardy individuals even undertake… Continue reading

Melting ice patch in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. (Photo provided by National Park Service)
A snowmachine at rest in front of the Snag Lake public use cabin. (Photo provided by USFWS)

Preparedness is key to staying safe in the backcountry

If you spend any time in the backcountry it’s bound to happen: an ankle sprain halfway into a day hike, the afternoon blowup that unexpectedly… Continue reading

A snowmachine at rest in front of the Snag Lake public use cabin. (Photo provided by USFWS)
Photo provided by USFWS 
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge staff groom Marsh Lake Trail for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Refuge Notebook: When life gives you lemons, make a trail

The cross-country ski trails adjacent to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center at the top of Ski Hill Road in Soldotna are… Continue reading

Photo provided by USFWS 
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge staff groom Marsh Lake Trail for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Photos courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg, NOAA, and Brenda Konar, University of Alaska Fairbanks 
Blood stars (top left) and leather stars (top right) were less impacted by the disease and are more likely to be seen today. Sunflower sea stars (bottom left), mottled sea stars (lower center, this one showing symptoms of disease) and ochre sea stars (lower right) used to be common, but were most affected by the disease and have become more rare.

Refuge Notebook: The fall of sea stars

Sea stars are a keystone species. As a top predator, they can restructure intertidal communities. For example, by feeding on mussels, they open up limited… Continue reading

Photos courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg, NOAA, and Brenda Konar, University of Alaska Fairbanks 
Blood stars (top left) and leather stars (top right) were less impacted by the disease and are more likely to be seen today. Sunflower sea stars (bottom left), mottled sea stars (lower center, this one showing symptoms of disease) and ochre sea stars (lower right) used to be common, but were most affected by the disease and have become more rare.
A young beaver enjoys a willow branch snack on a pond in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. (Photo by Colin Canterbury, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge Notebook: Leave it to beavers

I was skiing along a lake in the canoe system on a clear, cold winter day, enjoying the crisp fresh air and the shushing sound… Continue reading

A young beaver enjoys a willow branch snack on a pond in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. (Photo by Colin Canterbury, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Salt marshes are important food sources for brown bears. As we see an earlier start to the growing season or increased plant growth, bears will likely benefit from them even more. (Photo by Michael Hannam/NPS)

Refuge Notebook: Could bears benefit from changing coastal marshes?

Flying over the Cook Inlet coast, you can look down and see expansive salt marshes where mountain rivers meet the sea in lush green meadows.… Continue reading

Salt marshes are important food sources for brown bears. As we see an earlier start to the growing season or increased plant growth, bears will likely benefit from them even more. (Photo by Michael Hannam/NPS)
Photo by Colin Canterbury/USFWS 
A rare photograph of a shrew during winter. This shrew was observed above the snow where it had been sneaking out of the subnivean zone for short periods of time, possibly to exploit seeds or suet that had fallen on top of the snow beneath a bird feeder in Soldotna.

Refuge notebook: The hidden subnivean

Alaska summers are fast paced with people, wildlife and plants all in apparent frenzy trying to capitalize on warm temperatures and sunlight. And with good… Continue reading

Photo by Colin Canterbury/USFWS 
A rare photograph of a shrew during winter. This shrew was observed above the snow where it had been sneaking out of the subnivean zone for short periods of time, possibly to exploit seeds or suet that had fallen on top of the snow beneath a bird feeder in Soldotna.
Predaceous flatworms hide under leaves by day in a spring near Soldotna Airport on Dec. 21, 2017. At night they hunt for other invertebrates. (Photo by Matt Bowser/USFWS)

Refuge Notebook: Life in Kenai Peninsula freshwater springs

I like winter. I really do. The cold and the dark don’t wear on me too much as long as I can get out and… Continue reading

Predaceous flatworms hide under leaves by day in a spring near Soldotna Airport on Dec. 21, 2017. At night they hunt for other invertebrates. (Photo by Matt Bowser/USFWS)
Photo by Katrina Liebich/USFWS 
A fish friendly culvert in Alaska.

Refuge Notebook: What’s your number? Mine is 5

Have you ever considered how many salmon streams you cross on your daily drive to work, school or another location you frequent? My number is… Continue reading

Photo by Katrina Liebich/USFWS 
A fish friendly culvert in Alaska.
Photo by Matt Bowser/USFWS 
Biological intern Annaleese Rasanen surveys severely burned alpine shrub tundra within the Swan Lake Fire burn July 27, 2020.

Refuge Notebook: A refuge manager’s perspective on 2020

A friend and colleague recently sent me a list of “things to consider” as 2020 drew to a close (all credit to the unidentified source… Continue reading

Photo by Matt Bowser/USFWS 
Biological intern Annaleese Rasanen surveys severely burned alpine shrub tundra within the Swan Lake Fire burn July 27, 2020.
A Northern Hawk Owl clutching a red-backed vole near Watson Lake between Sterling and Cooper Landing, Alaska on Nov. 30, 2020. (Photo by Colin Canterbury/USFWS)

Northern Hawk Owls frequent Swan Lake Fire burn

In a gliding dive it swooped down from atop an aspen and disappeared, plunging into the fresh snow behind a stand of willows. I hunkered… Continue reading

A Northern Hawk Owl clutching a red-backed vole near Watson Lake between Sterling and Cooper Landing, Alaska on Nov. 30, 2020. (Photo by Colin Canterbury/USFWS)
Wyatt, at age 4, helping dad harvest crawfish at White River NWR in Arkansas. (Photo by Matt Conner/USFWS)

Refuge Notebook: Crawfish to Christmas trees

My rubber knee boots provided little traction as I slowly slid down the mucky side of the bank toward the muddied water. The soft mud… Continue reading

Wyatt, at age 4, helping dad harvest crawfish at White River NWR in Arkansas. (Photo by Matt Conner/USFWS)
Silver salmon swim in Sucker Creek on Sept. 18, 2020. Surface streams on the Kenai Peninsula and fish in them have far less arsenic in them than in some well water in the area. (Photo by Matt Bowser/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge Notebook: Arsenic in murder and nature

Arsenic, though often difficult to detect, is hard to ignore. As the 20th most common element in the Earth’s crust, arsenic occurs naturally in volcanic… Continue reading

Silver salmon swim in Sucker Creek on Sept. 18, 2020. Surface streams on the Kenai Peninsula and fish in them have far less arsenic in them than in some well water in the area. (Photo by Matt Bowser/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Photo by J. Pfeiffenberger/NPS 
Visitors enjoy bear viewing in the saltmarsh at Chinitna Bay, Lake Clark National Park.

Refuge Notebook: Visitors to Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks rely on Kenai Peninsula services

Two national park and preserve areas, Lake Clark and Katmai, located just across Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula, offer some of Alaska’s most spectacular… Continue reading

Photo by J. Pfeiffenberger/NPS 
Visitors enjoy bear viewing in the saltmarsh at Chinitna Bay, Lake Clark National Park.
A snowshoe hare in its white winter coat. (Photo by Colin Canterbury/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge Notebook: The verge of winter

As the daylight hours seem to slip away, the temperatures are slowly getting lower and the silky flowing waters of rivers, lakes and streams begin… Continue reading

A snowshoe hare in its white winter coat. (Photo by Colin Canterbury/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Basic Incident Command System organization chart. The ICS system has been used for many different types of incidents since its inception. (Chart from Federal Emergency Management Agency)

Refuge Notebook: Incident Command System adapts to record-setting wildfires

The August Complex Fire of 2020 on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California is officially the state’s largest wildfire in history. At over 1,000,000… Continue reading

Basic Incident Command System organization chart. The ICS system has been used for many different types of incidents since its inception. (Chart from Federal Emergency Management Agency)
The view looking north toward the pass from just above Juneau Lake. (Photo by Jack Carroll/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)

Refuge Notebook: Finding refuge in the forest

As a park ranger for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, I get to spend a lot of time on the refuge’s trails and in the… Continue reading

The view looking north toward the pass from just above Juneau Lake. (Photo by Jack Carroll/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Eivin Kilcher with his children and their flotsam treasures on Ushagat Island in August 2020. (Photo by Eve Kilcher)

Refuge Notebook: Flotsam ‘treasure’ harbors wealth of wildlife knowledge

This August, Eivin Kilcher was beachcombing on Ushagat Island when he saw something unusual. “I was thinking, whoa, that looks like a massive-something-important.” He and… Continue reading

Eivin Kilcher with his children and their flotsam treasures on Ushagat Island in August 2020. (Photo by Eve Kilcher)
Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge 
Kasey Renfro and Seth Payment show off their tier rock wall on Skyline Trail.

Refuge Notebook: Skyline gets much-needed upgrades after the fire

Skyline Trail was the top priority for getting trail work done and getting the trail reopened for the public to enjoy. Skyline is arguably our… Continue reading

Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge 
Kasey Renfro and Seth Payment show off their tier rock wall on Skyline Trail.
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