NOWITNA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The heart of Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge is a lowland basin of forests and wetlands that forms the floodplain of the meandering Nowitna River. The refuge's climate is typically marked by light precipitation, mild winds, long, hard winters and short, relatively warm, summers. The hills that circle the refuge lowlands are capped by alpine tundra.
It takes a week in a canoe, or more than an hour in a small plane, to traverse the refuge's 2.1 million acres of pristine wildlife habitat. Approximately 223 miles of the Nowitna River's 283-mile length flow within the boundaries of the refuge. Fish species inhabiting the river and its related lakes and streams include sheefish, burbot, whitefish, sucker, king and chum salmon, northern pike and arctic grayling.
The slow, meandering lower reaches of the Nowitna wander through one of Alaska's many productive waterfowl nurseries. The grassy margins of the river, surrounding lakes, and waterways provide breeding habitat for trumpeter swans, white fronted geese, canvasback ducks, cranes, and many other migratory species. More than 120 bird species have been sighted on the refuge during summer months, but only a few dozen hardy species remain through the long, cold winters.
Mature white spruce in the forested lowlands provides cover and den sites for marten, and trapping these and other furbearers remains important to the economy of people in the region. In fact, refuge lands have been used for centuries by Koyukon Athabascans for hunting, fishing, trapping and other subsistence activities. Moose, wolves, lynx, wolverines and both black and grizzly bears might be encountered anywhere on the refuge.
The Nowitna Refuge ranges from flat lowlands dotted with wetlands, to rolling hills capped by alpine tundra. The Nowitna River, a nationally designated Wild River, winds for 223 miles through the heart of the Refuge. The river and its tributaries shape the surrounding land, carving at forested cut-banks and creating gravel bars where wildflowers, grasses, herbs and willows sprout.
The Nowitna Refuge is a place where the visitor may step back in time. The landscape,though ever shifting, remains much as it has for thousands of years. People first occupied the interior of Alaska more than 10,000 years ago, depending on the abundant natural resources for food, clothing and shelter. The Koyukon Athabascan people living in the area today come from a long tradition of dependence on the land for survival.