This map shows where the 10 designated campgrounds are on the upper Kenai River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

This map shows where the 10 designated campgrounds are on the upper Kenai River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Public use changes in effect on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to show that the new regulations on the refuge only include a “no wake” restriction on some lakes in the refuge, not all waters.

Visitors to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will have a few more regulations to follow this summer.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its final rule update for public use regulations on the refuge on May 5, effective 30 days later on June 5. The ruling applies across the nearly 2 million-acre refuge and changes some of the access policies on camping, gun use and boat use.

One immediate change dictates where people can camp along the Kenai River between river mile 73 to its confluence with Skilak Lake and from the outlet of Skilak Lake to river mile 45.5. Traditionally, people have camped along the banks throughout the area, but now they will be restricted to either camping more than 100 yards from the shorelines or in one of 10 designated campsites along the river.

The camping pressure has caused damage to the vegetation and bank stability over the years, said Matt Conner, visitor services manager for the refuge. Refuge staff surveyed the area and picked 10 spots hardened enough to support the camping without incurring more damage, he said.

“Other spots folks have been using historically is really damaging the vegetation,” Conner said. “This was an effort to kind of pick the ones we thought (were) where we’d allow this because we still wanted to provide some of that opportunity.”

This weekend will likely see a large number of visitors to the refuge because the Russian River will open for sockeye salmon fishing, along with a number of other flowing waters on and near the refuge. Conner said there will be workers at Sportsman’s Landing and the Russian River Ferry with maps of where camping on the riverbank is allowed and notices will be posted at Jim’s Landing and Sportsman’s Landing.

The original rule included restrictions to the middle Kenai River within the refuge, but the final rule removed the restriction for that area. Instead, Fish and Wildlife will continue to coordinate with the state to manage that part of the river and will monitor effects of the camping restriction along the upper river, according to the final rule.

Another change will formalize how far someone can keep fish or a backpack from their person. The refuge has issued temporary restrictions for the last few years on food and retained fish storage to prevent human-bear interactions near the Russian River and Kenai River confluence. The U.S. Forest Service manages the other side of the river and has the same regulations in place; the changed restrictions will bring the two into alignment, Conner said.

Visitors must keep fish within 12 feet and other attractants — food, beverages or garbage — in a bear-resistant container, in a vehicle or within three feet of the owner at all times.

“They’re pretty savvy animals, and they get habituated to people,” Conner said. “That’s kind of a scary situation to be in.”

Another part of the final rule changes some hunting restrictions. Hunters cannot take brown bears over bait on the refuge after the rule goes into effect and cannot discharge a firearm within a quarter-mile of the Kenai and Russian rivers unless they are dispatching an animal they have legally trapped or shooting for waterfowl or small game along the Kenai River. The rivers are so crowded with sportfishermen throughout the season that shooting causes a public safety hazard, according to the rule.

“These river corridors receive intensive recreational use for sport fishing from shorelines and boats during open seasons for salmon and resident fish including rainbow trout and Dolly Varden, and, on the upper Kenai River for river floating, from late spring to freeze-up,” the rule states.

The regulations also sync up the refuge’s requirements with the state’s restriction on horsepower and the four-stroke engine requirement. Originally, the proposed rule had placed a cap on engine horsepower on the some lakes on the refuge, but the rule was removed, leaving only the “no wake” rule in place, Conner said. As of June 5, a “no wake” restriction is in place on the entire water bodies of Engineer, Upper and Lower Ohmer, Bottenintnin, Upper and Lower Jean, Kelly, Petersen, Watson, Imeri, Afonasi, Dolly Varden, and Rainbow lakes. On other lakes, there are no horsepower or wake restrictions.

The full ruling is available on the federal register at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/05/21/2015-12099/refuge-specific-regulations-public-use-kenai-national-wildlife-refuge#h-11.

 

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

National Weather Service radar for the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska on Aug. 17, 2022. (Screenshot)
Rain, rain and more rain

Low pressure systems drive wet conditions in Southcentral

Sockeye salmon return to Steep Creek to spawn. Alaska’s overall commercial salmon harvest across all species is currently up 15% from 2021 (2020 for pinks) with Bristol Bay and the Prince William Sound largely carrying the weight while other regions lag, according to data from the most recent Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute weekly salmon harvest update. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Statewide salmon harvest on the upswing compared to last year

Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound are mainly pulling the weight

Jake Dye / Peninsula Clarion
Congressional candidate Mary Peltola responds to a question during a forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3 in Kenai . Early Wednesday, Peltola had earned 38.4% of first-choice votes in a race that will determine who fills Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat until January.
Mary Peltola responds to a question during a forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)
Democratic candidate Peltola leads U.S. House race early, but Palin may win in final count

Former governor and Republican U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin stands to benefit from ranked choice voting

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID hospitalizations on the rise

86 patients were hospitalized with 10 patients on ventilators

2022 gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce walks in the 65th annual Soldotna Progress Days Parade on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Pierce among leaders in governor’s race

Incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy leads the pack overall

Braeden Garrett holds signs supporting Alaska House of Representatives candidate Justin Ruffridge at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Ruffridge, Babcock lead in early primary results

Unofficial preliminary primary election results showed significant margins between the first- and second-place candidates

Pollworkers Carol Louthan (center) and Harmony Bolden (right) work at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Local voters cast ballots, try out ranked choice

Locally, multiple candidates have their sights set on seats in the Alaska Legislature.

U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka joins Donald Trump on stage during a rally at the Alaska Airlines Center on July 9, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Tshibaka is seeking to become one of four candidates to advance in the U.S. Senate race during Alaska’s primary election Tuesday, Aug. 16. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka joins Donald Trump on stage during a rally at the Alaska Airlines Center on July 9, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Tshibaka is seeking to become one of four candidates to advance in the U.S. Senate race during Alaska’s primary election Tuesday, Aug. 16. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
Murkowski advances in Senate race, Palin in House

Kelly Tshibaka, her GOP rival endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was among the candidates bound for the November general election

Most Read