Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

Flora & Fauna

Flora

At Kenai Fjords, the vegetation in the park tends to be sparse, but hardy. Due to acidic or sandy soil, more than 90 percent of the landscape remains bare. The vegetation that survives is often divided into four major ecosystems. The highest, the Arctic-Alpine zone, is above the tree line and dominated by sedges, grasses, willows and other dwarf plants. In lower elevations, dense thickets of alder, willow and devils club prepare the way for mature stands of spruce and hemlock forests; these, along with bunchberry and mountain cranberry, make up the Hudsonian zone. On the coast, the Hudsonian zone merges with the Canadian zone, a comparatively lush ecosystem of Sitka spruce, salmonberry and skunk cabbage. Offshore, the Coastal Marine Zone, concentrated on islands and beaches, includes large stands of kelp and eelgrass.

Fauna

The indigenous wildlife of Kenai Fjords is truly as impressive as its natural scenery. Mountain goats, moose, bears, wolverines and marmots manage to make their home in a narrow zone between marine waters and the edge of the ice field. Bald eagles nest in the tops of spruce and hemlock trees. During the summer, life is abundant in the fjords. Steller sea lions sunbathe on rocky islands at the entrances to Aialik and Nuka bays. Harbor seals float lazily on icebergs. Dall porpoises and sea otters—along with gray, humpback, killer and minke whales—all cruise the fjords' waters. Halibut, lingcod, black bass, and even the occasional giant squid prowl deep in the bay. Numerous kinds of salmon pass through in the midst of their spawning runs. Thousands of seabirds, including horned and tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, common murres and the ever-present gulls, inhabit steep cliffs and rocky shores at certain times of the year.

One of the best places to observe wildlife in the park is at the Chiswell Islands, which are located at the mouth of Aialik Bay in the Gulf of Alaska. (Technically, the Chiswells are not in the park; they are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, but many of the same critters are seen on the rocky headlands, which are part of the national park.)

More than 50,000 seabirds—representing 18 different species—nest on the rocky islands each summer. Visitors have a wonderful chance to observe each seabird species in their natural environment, from the puffins nesting in crevices of burrows to the murres perching precariously on narrow ledges. In addition, the only Steller sea lion nursery area that can be legally approached is situated on these islands.