Canada lynx, © Erwin & Peggy Bauer/USFWS

A rare sighting at Skilak

Memories of close encounters with wildlife are often among our most prized stories.  Nature series and films like Planet Earth are enormously popular because of people’s desire to see the fascinating behavior of wildlife in its natural habitat. The ability to actually view some of these moments in person gives a thrill like no other and strengthens our connection to these creatures.  One of the most common reasons people visit wild places like Alaska is to increase the chance of these encounters.

Skilak lake, © USFWS

Skilak lake, © USFWS

Whenever people come to visit me here, it’s a high priority of mine to make sure they see wildlife one would not ordinarily find wandering through their own backyard. On my parents’ recent visit to Alaska, my mother made it clear that her trip would not be complete without seeing puffins and whales. Fortunately, the Kenai Fjords National Park delivered several opportunities to see both of these creatures. But a far rarer sighting came our way the next day in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

We were driving through the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (SWRA).  As we ambled down the bumpy Skilak Loop Road, my father suddenly slowed the car to a crawl, saying he thought he saw something crossing the road just in front of us. Brown bear sightings are fairly frequent in this area; in fact, we had just seen a mother bear and cubs about 10 miles earlier, so I assumed we had come upon another one. My father brought the car to a stop where he thought he saw the creature crossing and we looked to the right to see an adult lynx sitting in the brush along the side of the road not ten feet away!

As a fairly avid outdoor sport enthusiast I had seen a great deal of the wildlife Alaska has to offer: moose, Dall sheep, brown and black bears, and even wolverines, but this was my first sighting of this very elusive creature. Lynx are fearful of people and very stealthy so even if they see you, it is not often that they will allow you to see them.  This lynx, however, sat calmly in the brush and allowed us to watch it for several minutes.

Canada lynx, © Timothy J. Catton/USFS

Canada lynx (© Timothy J. Catton/USFS)

The SWRA was designated in the refuge’s first Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) in 1985 with the goal to “increase opportunities for viewing wildlife.” CCPs are documents that provide the framework for management decisions on a refuge for a 10-15 year period. Each time the plan is drafted and updated it goes through a thorough public review process.  The National Wildlife Refuge Association explains that CCPs “give citizens the opportunity to have a say in the future management of individual national wildlife refuges and to ensure that wildlife conservation and compatible recreation remain priorities. Refuge managers at times must make tough decisions to protect wildlife, such as eliminating jet-skiing, harmful agricultural activities or other actions; the CCP process allows all stakeholders to be heard and for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees to discuss the consequences of various management decisions.”

As with any refuge, there are a variety of opportunities for recreation, and the management of the refuge strives to ensure that visitors can enjoy these interests while maintaining the ecological integrity of the habitat as a whole. An area like the SWRA allows wildlife to wander without the threat of hunting and provides visitors with a peaceful place to recreate. The Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area constitutes only 2% of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and is the only part of the refuge with such restricted hunting opportunities.

But in March of 2013, the Alaska State Board of Game (BOG) adopted a proposal to allow firearm hunting and trapping of lynx, coyotes and wolves in the SWRA. This measure is entirely inconsistent with the refuge’s management plan to protect this area for wildlife viewing and recreation.  The SWRA contains some of the best access into the refuge through the Skilak Loop Road and the trail system and campsites that spur off it, and allowing hunters to have access could have a significant impact on the wildlife that travel through this area. It would also disrupt people’s use of the SWRA for peaceful hiking and skiing, and could greatly diminish opportunities to see wildlife.

This summer the refuge held hearings concerning the BOG’s measure and many people, including those who hunt locally, came to speak out against it. Defenders supports the refuge’s decision to keep the hunting restrictions in this area. It’s important to maintain the diversity of uses on the refuge.

Seeing the lynx in the SWRA was a rare opportunity, and I was all the more glad that I got to share it with my parents.  These moments remind us of the importance of respecting wildlife in their natural habitats and allowing them places to persist with minimal interference from humans. It is an encounter I will not soon forget.

 

Claire Colegrove, Alaska Representative 

13 Responses to “A rare sighting at Skilak”

  1. geri perry

    I hope

    I hope

    Please keep the buffer zone around the National Wildlife Refuge free from hunting and killing of wildlife. Visitors come to Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge to see our vanishing wildlife. Please protect them so we can enjoy them.

  2. Flor del Carmen Padilla

    The Alaska State Board of Game (BOG) adopted a proposal “to allow firearm hunting and trapping of lynx, coyotes and wolves in the SWRA”. This measure is entirely inconsistent with the refuge’s management plan to protect this area for wildlife viewing and recreation. Now, is possible to see the lynx, but futurely will not be possible to see them. Very sorry.

  3. Phil Martin

    It would be nothing less than a travesty to allow hunting, trapping, etc. in the SWRA. Hopefully, this will not be allowed to go forward.

  4. Charlene Barva

    Please STOP this proposal!! Why do we continually have to kill? Can’t we find ways to coexist with these beautiful species than eliminating them. We need to start evolving as humans and
    respecting our environment and living things in it than being so destructive!

  5. Dawn

    Hunting & trapping is done in enough places on Earth!! They want to hunt go to where they can hunt, why make more hunting & trapping areas for those that care nothing about anything but blood!! There are those people like myself that want to visit places to actually watch animals live & be free from the dangers of man!! If your worried about money remember there are those of us that spend money taking pictures & enjoying the live animals!! Stop thinking hunting & trapping is a good idea!! This is a refuge which means safety from hunting & trapping & fire those fools that feel they need to change the definition of refuge!!! Many folks come to enjoy animals so leave places alone & teach man he isn’t allowed to do anything he wants!!! Put a stop to what man wants & think of the animals first!!!

  6. Mary Barber

    What can we do to help dissuade the Alaska BOG from continuing with this terrible prposal? Is it too late for public comment, or an email and letter-writing campaign? The thought of any of these magnificent creatures caught in a trap and chewing its paw off makes me incredibly sad and angry. So what can we do to help?

  7. Dotlu

    Lest we not forget, ex-gov Palin allowed wolf hunting, and paid a bounty for each paw turned in.

  8. Katherine F

    It is a sad state of affairs if the people of this great nation allow a few to destroy what has been set aside to be protected. Hunting and killing of wildlife in a National Wildlife Refuge is simply a desperate and insane act of allowing someone to have the “thrill” of killing and have it sanctioned by a small group. Wilderness should be there for the wildlife. People who come to destroy it are not welcome. It is my sincere hope that the Alaska State Board of Game comes to its senses and stops this from happening. Protect what we have or it will be gone forever.

  9. PEG HENDERSON MILLS

    IS PALIN BACK UP THERE? SHE THOUGHT IT WAS OK TO SLAUGHTER ANYTHING THAT MOVED WHEN SHE WAS IN CHARGE. THE LYNX IS SO RARE WHY KILL IT. LEAVE IT ALONE AND STAY OUT OF PROTECTED AREAS

  10. Lupe

    What a beautiful picture of a Canada Lynx…I say, If you don’t like the wildlife then get a taller fence or move back to the city…everybody Please leave our wildlife alone. Within the year; we are hoping to go to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and to a few other refuges in Alaska. I hope I’m lucky enough to see this beautiful creature myself…

  11. W Hauswitzer

    It is our duty, naturists and admirers of wildlife, to keep hunters and murderers like Palin out of office…please, PLEASE pick your representatives carefully and keep up the pressure to the Alaska State Board of Game to ban the use of agonizing traps, AND the shooting of all wildlife in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, AND, in fact, in the entire Kenai National Wildlife Refuge!!

  12. W Hauswitzer

    Pardon me, did I say murderers? I mean to say reckless killers of wildlife. I am not implying killers of humans–

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