I began my working life in the fast food industry. So when I was hired by the U.S. Forest Service to do manual labor during college, I was thrilled. I was on fire crew that spent the summer thinning forest stands and clearing trails. I could not believe someone would pay me to be outside in the woods.
On Dec. 19 volunteers will spend 24 hours focused on Soldotna's 2009 Christmas Bird Count. Every winter since 1983, local birders serving as citizen scientists have braved winter conditions to count all the birds found within a 15-mile diameter circle centered on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. The birds found are compiled and entered into a national database with over 100 years of observations.
When Franklin Roosevelt established the Kenai National Moose Range in 1941, it was to protect the habitat of the ?giant Kenai moose,? then considered a subspecies unique to the peninsula. Although we now know our moose were simply big and our name has changed to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the moose continues to be our patron saint.
Very soon, motorists in the Kenai-Soldotna area should be seeing some of the 130 or so caribou of the Kenai Lowland herd. Caribou are commonly seen on the Spur Highway, Bridge Access Road, and Kalifornsky Beach Road, where road signs caution motorists to watch for crossing animals. I often see them grazing in the gravel pit next to the Alaska Division of Forestry headquarters on the Sterling Highway east of the Mackey Lake Road intersection.
After an unusually cold winter on the Kenai with a long period of minus 30 F weather over the holidays, it's sometimes hard to believe that global climate change is real.
My family hiked up Hideout Trail over Memorial Day. It's a favorite with my kids because it quickly gets us above treeline, giving us great views of the upper Kenai River and access to good berry picking later in the summer. Mostly purple and white wildflowers lined the trail: wild geranium, dwarf Jacob's ladder, lupine, violets, Draba mustard, chickweed, high bush cranberry, star flower, and bunchberry. The only yellow flowers at this time of year are Indian paintbrush and the common dandelion.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill. If enacted by the Senate, the bill will seek to reduce greenhouse emissions from current levels by 17 percent by 2020 and over 80 percent by 2050. Undoubtedly, there will be more lively debate about the costs, methods, and timeline of climate change mitigation.
I vacationed with my family in July on Barra, an island in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Although this was my third time to Barra, it was first time that I embarked from Alaska. And it was wonderful. We landed at low tide near Eoligarry on what is billed as the only commercial airport that is, in fact, on a tidal flat.
I read an interesting essay by Lance Petersen, called the Fragmentation of Kenai. Published in 1983, he bemoaned the loss of community that was the result of rapid population and economic growth after he moved to Kenai in 1953. Mr. Petersen was writing about the human community. But the same notion can be applied to wildlife populations, as they adapt to a world with a heavy human footprint.
If you've ever boated down the Kenai River during fishing season or hiked from one of the trailheads off the Sterling Highway, you probably noted how noisy it was even though you were in the great Alaska outdoors. The rattle of an 18-wheeler or the dull whine of a motor boat can follow you for a long way in the woods. Noise can be a real spoiler when you're trying to get away from it all.
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