Ice Fields & Glaciers - The
eastern portion of the refuge descends from the 6,500 Harding Ice Field to
2,000 to 4,000 ft. peaks in the western Kenai Mountains. Ice fields and
glaciers are vital sources of fresh water for wildlife and people. Mountain
goats, brown bears and ravens have been sighted crossing glaciers and on
nunataks - exposed mountains projecting above the glacial ice.
Ice worms are a little known
inhabitant of temperate glacial ice ranging in length from 1 to 3 cm. Moving
between crystals of ice and through the many interconnected channels in
granular snow, ice worms generally stay near the surface of glaciers. Most
species of ice worms rise to the surface at dusk while other live in puddles of
glacial meltwater. Ice worms eat airborne pollen grains, fern spores and the
red algae that lives in snow and sometimes colors it pink.
Mountain Tundra- Tree line ends at
1,500 to 2,000 ft. with low growing tundra plants and shrubs continuing in
elevation to snow and rock fields at 4,000 ft. Dall sheep, mountain goats, and
caribou roam this rugged country. Hoary marmots form colonies on talus slopes.
Brown bears graze for berries and occasionally take marmots and sheep. Wolves
and golden eagles have been known to be successful hunters of young sheep.
Wolverines scavenge the carcasses of dead sheep and goats.
Northern Boreal Forest- From sea
level to 2,000 ft., the northern boreal forest is found on the refuge. This
forest is composed predominately of white and black spruce, birch, aspen, and
cottonwood trees in various stages of succession. This forest is an important
source of food and shelter for moose, black and brown bears, lynx, wolves, coyotes,
porcupine, weasels, red squirrels and snowshoe hares. This habitat is an
important nesting area for summer migrants including orange-crowned and myrtle
warblers, olive-sided flycatchers, fox sparrows, ruby crowned kinglets, and
Swainson's and hermit thrushes. Local resident birds include great horned owls,
hairy and downy woodpeckers, spruce grouse, red-breasted nuthatches, and boreal
and black-capped chickadees.
Lakes & Wetlands- The
northeastern portion of the refuge is dotted with hundreds of small lakes
surrounded by wetland tundra or spruce/hardwood forest hills. This large
wetland habitat supports migratory breeding birds including common and pacific
loons, grebes, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, ducks, and shorebirds. Mammals
found within this habitat include caribou, moose, beaver, muskrat, and mink.
The lakes support a variety of fish species, such as rainbow trout, arctic
char, red and silver salmon, and sticklebacks.
Within this habitat, the Chickaloon
River Flats remains the last pristine major saltwater estuary on the Kenai
Peninsula. The Flats serves as a staging area for thousands of shorebirds and
Rivers- The refuge is drained by
nine river systems, including the world famous Kenai River, renowned for its
wide variety of sport fish including Chinook (king), sockeye (red), and coho
(silver) salmon, and Dolly Varden and rainbow trout. Bald eagles are often
sighted perched in tall cottonwoods along the riverbanks. Brown and black bears
are attracted to the rich fish resources in summer and fall. Moose, beaver, and
mergansers are commonly seen wildlife along refuge river systems.