It all started when a wealthy big game hunter
from Canon City, CO, traveled to Alaska, checking out rumors of giant moose on
the Kenai Peninsula. Arriving in Cook Inlet, Dall DeWeese was told he would be
fortunate to find a hunter by the name of Andrew Berg to guide him.
DeWeese found Berg at a Kasilof cannery and
secured his services. The hunt, in the Tustumena Lake region, was successful,
with several trophy moose taken and the peninsula stamped indelibly on
DeWeese's mind. On the steamboat journey home DeWeese was already planning his
next hunt here.
Word spread of a new territory with giant moose
and white sheep, and many hunters laid plans for the season of 1898.
For those lacking the time and financial
wherewithal for an Alaskan hunt, other means of acquiring trophies were
available. At that time, there were no game regulations whatsoever in the
Territory of Alaska, and wildlife could be openly bought and sold by anyone.
Local Alaskan hunters started market hunting by killing moose and caribou for
their heads and selling them at good prices for shipment to San Francisco and
Upon DeWeese's return in the fall of 1898, after
an absence of only one year, he was surprised to see a marked decrease in game
populations. On his southbound trip, he stopped in Sitka and voiced his
concerns to the editor of the Alaskan Sitka newspaper. The next day the paper's
headline read, "ALASKAN GAME DOOMED. DALL DE WEESE THE GREAT HUNTER TELLS
THE REASON." In this article, DeWeese made a plea for game preservation in
the form of hunting laws and established game preserves.
Another big game hunter, Harry E. Lee, traveled
north in the fall of 1899 to hunt the Kenai Peninsula. Lee had a good hunt, yet
he saw problems developing with the lack of game laws. In a magazine article
Lee wrote: "I would like to suggest that the American sportsmen should by
all means try to secure this tract of land from the Government as a game
preserve, and I hope someone will take the matter in hand before another year,
for the game is wantonly killed by market hunters every winter, and if this is not
soon put a stop to, it will be entirely exterminated."
This call for preserving the Kenai Peninsula
wild game was taken up by many subsequent visiting sportsmen.
Dall DeWeese returned to hunt in Alaska again in
1899 and 1901, and he continued his call for wildlife preservation. In a letter
to the new president, Theodore Roosevelt, in December of 1901, DeWeese wrote:
"This is a subject that appeals to every 'true-blue sportsman,' every
lover of animal life, and all those who see beauty in nature, embracing
forests, plains, and mountains throughout our entire country, and while the
woods, plains, and mountains are naturally beautiful, we all agree that they
are much more grand and lifelike when the wild animals and birds are present.
There are now several organizations doing work toward the preservation of wild
animal and bird life. There is much yet for us to do; to resolve is to act. Let
us be up and at it."
Someone must have been listening, because Teddy
Roosevelt's new Forestry chief, Gifford Pinchot, sent a young forester named
William A. Langille to make a reconnaissance of the Kenai Peninsula in 1904.
Langille traversed the peninsula from Seward to Seldovia, and during this trip
he realized the unique value of the land as a wildlife and hunting preserve.
In his 1904 report, Langille expressed the
opinion that on the peninsula, "there is room for the frontier settler and
fishermen on the shore land; there let them abide in peace and prosper, but
keep out the fire and wanton game destroyers."
Langille further recommended that certain
portions of the proposed Kenai Forest Reserve be specifically designated as
game preserves for perpetuating the game species of the region. He recommended
that Sheep Creek at the head of Kachemak Bay be set aside for Dall sheep, and
that the Caribou Hills be set aside for moose and the few remaining caribou.
(In 1909, Langille headed up the new Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve,
which became today's Tongass National Forest. Many historians regard William
Langille as the father of forestry in Alaska.)
Following Langille's recommendations, the
Chugach National Forest was designated on July 23, 1907, with further additions
in 1909. At its maximum size, the Chugach National Forest extended from the
Copper River on the east to Cook Inlet on the west, to Kachemak Bay on the
south, and included all the Chugach Mountains to the north.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, hunters and
conservationists continued to press Congress to designate part of this land
specifically as a wildlife preserve, without logging, mining and other forms of
development. Congress finally recognized these voices, and a second President
Roosevelt -- FDR -- signed the enabling legislation for the Kenai National
Moose Range on Dec. 16, 1941, just nine days after Pearl Harbor.
In December 1980, the moose range was renamed
the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and its purposes were expanded to include
all wildlife species.