An adult female bear peers through a dense thicket of cow parsnip. During the summer months, Kodiak turns a lush, vibrant green as thick vegetation carpets the island. Kodiak bears balance their diet with a variety of plants, including grass. Photo by Lisa Hupp.

With 1.9-million acres to wander and no portion more than 15 miles from the Pacific, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge includes some of the most diverse habitat on the planet, covering the southern two-thirds of Kodiak Island, all of Ban and Uganik islands, and a section of Afognak Island. Though notorious for its famed denizen, the Kodiak brown bear, a genetically distinct subspecies of browns/grizzlies, the refuge protects more than just big bruins. Consider that among the lush fjords, valleys, wetlands, and 4,000-foot peaks, more than 1,000 pairs of nesting bald eagles claim the area as their home, along with 250 species of migrating or breeding fish, birds, and mammals. Salmon nourish the eagles, along with approximately 3,000 bears, as the fish wriggle and spawn in more than 100 streams within the refuge’s ecosystem.

In 1941, President Roosevelt proclaimed the area a refuge in order to protect Kodiak bears; however, other species thrived from the designation. Today, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge remains one of the largest intact and pure island environs on the planet. – introduction by Michelle Theall

Only a few months old, these three tiny brown bear siblings roam the ridge just behind their mother. They’ll learn many life skills during their first summer growing up in the refuge, including the basics of bear social hierarchies. They’ll also taste their first feast of salmon, berries, and lush vegetation—the major food resources that help sustain Kodiak brown bears to their enormous adult size.

Bear cubs stay close to their mothers during their first summer, following wherever she goes. The sign and wooden steps are no longer there.

An adult female bear carries her fresh catch to a quiet eating spot. During peak fishing season, Kodiak brown bears may catch so many fish in a day that they can choose to eat just the most nutritious parts: the brains, skin, and belly. The leftovers don’t go to waste—many other creatures are happy to find a half-eaten salmon on the riverbank.
September sun filters through golden cottonwood leaves on the shore of Uganik Lake, where the glacially fed Uganik River pauses on its way to the sea. A refuge public use cabin nestles at one end, and the lake’s outlet is a popular launch for rafters who float and fish the river. The Uganik Lake watershed has one of the highest densities of brown bears in the refuge, especially during the peak salmon seasons.

Lisa Hupp spent 15 years living in Kodiak, and nearly a decade working for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge as a park ranger and outreach specialist. She uses wildlife and landscape photography as a way to connect people with the remote wonders of Alaska’s public lands.

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