A few hours’ drive south of Anchorage, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is an Alaska in miniature. Larger than the state of Delaware, the refuge’s expanse includes snow-capped mountains, forests, lakes, vast wetland networks, and glacier-fed salmon streams that provide habitat to all of the state’s charismatic megafauna: grizzlies, black bear, moose, caribou, wolves, lynx, mountain goat, and bald eagles. First protected as moose habitat in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt, today the refuge remains a largely undeveloped, 2-million-acre wilderness that is a popular destination for angling, alpine hiking, paddling, camping, and hunting.
But like the rest of Alaska, which has warmed an average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 70 years — two to three times the U.S. average — the Kenai refuge is experiencing dramatic impacts from climate change. Rising temperatures and lower annual precipitation are making the region more susceptible to wildfires, which occur earlier in the season and now burn through wetlands and alpine tundra — habitats that used to serve as fire breaks. Over the last 50 years, the drop in precipitation has reduced the availability of water by 55 percent, resulting in smaller lakes and parched bogs.