“So what exactly does your job entail?” This question is followed up quickly by another fishermen’s tongue-in-cheek answer of “what a job to check licenses.” As a law enforcement officer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, I reply with a smile, “yes, that’s part of it”, while making sure that everyone in this drift boat on the upper Kenai River has the proper safety equipment and legal fishing gear. I remind them of fires, bears, firearm protocol, and other restrictions that are in place on the short drift from Sportsman’s boat launch down to Jim’s Landing. I wish the group good luck and walk a few hundred yards amongst the hundreds of combat fishermen who are elbow-to-elbow in hopes of catching a red.
I encounter a young brown bear that seems to be getting a little brave for its britches. I watch for several minutes as it attempts to make easy meals of the unattended stringers. I decide that for everyone’s safety, a rubber round to the young bear’s rump should do the trick. The young bear scoots off in a hurry having learned its lesson ... for now.
I sling my shotgun and continue on down the bank. As I approach a couple of tents, I can sense something isn’t quite right. Several large green trees have been cut down to fuel their campfire. While addressing this group of five campers, I can tell that they’re under the influence of something other than liquid courage. What was supposed to have been a quick check on some campers to make sure things were going okay turned into multiple citations for resource damage, possession of controlled substances, illegal fishing gear, and several other minor infractions.
I gather my belongings and head back to my patrol truck. Only a few minutes after leaving the Russian River parking lot on my way back to Soldotna, I receive a report of a vehicle traveling dangerously at high speeds and running other vehicles off the Sterling Highway. When I pull up a few moments later, a fellow State Trooper has already stopped the vehicle and begun administering field sobriety tests. I direct traffic while keeping an eye on the passengers who are being verbally combative. The driver is eventually taken to jail for DUI and the passengers released to a sober driver. I jump back in my truck and continue into Soldotna.
It’s now 2 p.m. as I pull into the Refuge headquarters, only to get word I’m on the next flight to Bethel to spend the next six days assisting with a protest of new king salmon harvest restrictions. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s goal is to ensure enough kings reach escapement in the Kuskokwim River for future returns. Trying to explain this in torrential rains from a 19-foot boat while surrounded by 12 boats of angry villagers carrying assault rifles can get quite interesting to say the least. Thankfully, with a little explaining on our end, people became cooperative and understanding. Working with others for the future is one of our biggest goals as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“So is your job seasonal?” Again I grin, knowing that law enforcement at the Kenai Refuge is never slow. As winter approaches, the pace gets a little less hectic as the days get a little darker and colder, but that is when trapping season for furbearers is in full swing. While many Alaskans are at home bundled up or on their annual trip to Hawaii, Refuge law enforcement officers are out checking trap-lines in the twenty-plus below temperatures making sure that regulations and required checks are being maintained.
And because the Kenai Refuge has one of the largest law enforcement staffs in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we are often required to assist at other refuges. For example, I helped out at Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico this past winter. Going to a refuge the size of Tustumena Lake sounds like it couldn’t possibly be that busy or have our level of public use. But Vieques is very complex and unique in its own way.
This refuge is known for the different turtle species that nest on its beautiful world class beaches during the night. These turtle eggs are highly sought after by poachers who can get extremely high prices for them in Asian markets, where they’re billed as an aphrodisiac. At Vieques, we also encountered commercial sand theft, trespassing after hours, disorderly conduct, poaching of land crabs, conch and sea turtles, drug trafficking, drinking and driving, theft, search and rescue, and commercial filming.
On the Kenai Peninsula, we are truly fortunate to have endless recreational opportunities, making my job diverse and rewarding every single day, even if it starts out as just a license check.
Justin Mulligan is a law enforcement officer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. You can find more information about the Refuge at http://kenai.fws.gov or http://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.