The opportunity to view Kodiak brown bears alone is worth the trip to this rugged country. When they emerge from their dens in spring, the bears chow down on some skunk cabbage to awaken their stomachs; eat a few extra salads of sedges, dandelions, and grasses; and then feast on the endless supply of fish when salmon return. About the time they start thinking about hibernating again the berries are ripe (they may eat 2,000 or more berries a day)—cranberries, blueberries, and salmonberries. Approximately 3,000 Kodiak brown bears, the biggest brown bears anywhere—sometimes topping out at more than 1,500 pounds—share the refuge with a few other land mammals: red foxes, river otters, short-tailed weasels, and tundra voles. Additionally, several additional mammals have been introduced to the archipelago: Sitka black-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, beaver, muskrat, Roosevelt elk, and mountain goat.
The 1.9-million-acre Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge lies mostly on Kodiak Island
and neighboring Afognak and Uganik islands, in the Gulf of Alaska. All are part of the Kodiak Archipelago, separated from Alaska's mainland by the stormy Shelikof Strait. Within the refuge are rugged mountains, tundra meadows and lowlands, thickly forested hills, plus lakes, marshes, and hundreds of miles of pristine coastland. No place in the refuge is more than 15 miles from the ocean. The weather here is generally wet and cool, and storms born in the North Pacific often bring heavy rains.
Dozens of species of birds flock to the refuge each spring and summer, including Aleutian terns, horned puffins, black oystercatchers, ravens, ptarmigan, and chickadees. At least 600 pairs of bald eagles live on the islands, building the world's largest bird nests on shoreline cliffs and in tall trees.
Six species of Pacific salmon—chums, kings, pinks, silvers, sockeyes, and steelhead—return to Kodiak's waters from May to October. Other resident species include rainbow trout, Dolly Varden (an anadromous trout waiting for promotion to salmon), and arctic char. The abundance of fish and bears makes the refuge popular with anglers, hunters, and wildlife watchers.