BECHAROF NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Becharof National Wildlife Refuge is a land of contrasts. From its rugged coastline to the 4,835-foot summit of the Mt. Peulik volcano (the name is taken from an Alaska Native word meaning "smoking," or "smoking mountain"), it includes everything from tundra to braided, glacier-fed rivers to saw-toothed mountain ranges. But few would argue the assertion that the biological heart of the refuge is the lake that bears its name.
Becharof Lake is huge; 35 miles long, 15 miles wide and as much as 600 feet deep, and is fed by two major rivers and numerous streams. This, the second biggest lake in Alaska and the largest in the entire National Wildlife Refuge System, is a veritable salmon factory. The 300,000 acre lake serves as a nursery for the world's second largest run of sockeye salmon. It's estimated that Becharof Lake and its tributaries provide the Bristol Bay fishery alone with as many as six million adult salmon per year.
When Becharof's salmon are spawning, they attract and feed one of the largest concentrations of brown bears in Alaska. Moose are also present on the refuge in moderate, and seemingly increasing, numbers. Caribou of the Northern Alaska Peninsula Herd migrate through, and winter upon, Becharof. Wolverine, fox, river otter and beaver round out the list of larger land animals; while harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters and whales are found offshore. Seabirds, as well as eagles and peregrine falcons, nest upon the refuge's coastal cliffs, and migratory waterfowl use the wetlands and coastal estuaries, both as nesting grounds and as staging areas on the way to and from their nest sites in the arctic.
Becharof National Wildlife Refuge is a land of towering mountains, active volcanoes, broad valleys, fjords, tundra and glacially formed lakes. The Bristol Bay side of the Refuge consists primarily of flat to rolling tundra, lakes and wetlands. From these coastal lowlands, the land rises to steep glaciated mountains, forming the spine of the Refuge, and then plunges to steep cliffs and sandy beaches on the Pacific side. The Refuge contains Becharof Lake, which at approximately 300,000 acres, is the largest fresh water lake in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Mt. Peulik, a 4,800-foot volcano with lava flows reaching Becharof Lake is a prominent landmark.
The Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANILCA) established the 1.2 million acre Becharof National Wildlife Refuge on December 2, 1980. Refuge lands had previously been designated as a national wildlife monument in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter. Before that, the lands were part of the federal public domain. In 1983, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided to manage the Becharof Refuge, the Ugashik and Chignik units of the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge and the Seal Cape area of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge as a complex because they shared resources and common issues.