National Wildlife Refuge
Bethel, AK 99559
Phone Number: 907-543-3151
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|Emperor geese spend their entire lives within Alaska|
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
In southwest Alaska, the waters of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers flow through a vast "treeless plain," or tundra that forms the heart of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Almost 70% of this 19 million acre refuge is below 100 feet in elevation, and consists of a broad, flat delta stitched through with rivers and streams and dotted with countless lakes, sloughs and ponds. Bordering this expanse of tundra and wetlands are forest and shrub habitat and uplands sporting mountains more than 4000 feet high. The refuge also includes two large islands - Nelson and Nunivak.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is among the most populated rural areas in Alaska and within the refuge, 35 villages and nearly 25,000 Yup'ik Eskimo people make their home. Along with this population comes a region rich in culture where residents dependent on resources to support an active subsistence way of life.
A vision of the Yukon Delta Refuge is one of waterfowl. Without question, the refuge supports one of the largest aggregations of water birds in the world and a spectacle takes place every spring as millions of ducks, geese, and other water birds return to the refuge to nest. But a vision of the refuge must be much broader than waterfowl. It supports one of the most important shorebird nesting areas in the United States in terms of both density and species diversity. Hundreds of miles of rivers and streams provide spawning and rearing habitat for 44 species of fish including all five North American Pacific salmon. Drier upland habitats harbor populations of both brown and black bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and muskox. Along the coast of the refuge, the waters of the Bering Sea host a variety of marine mammals, including whales which pass during migration.
Getting There . . .
You cannot drive to the refuge since no roads lead into Bethel, the location of the refuge headquarters. Various airlines provide regular commercial flights to and from Bethel. Upon arriving in the airport in Bethel, drive 2 miles along the only paved road in town, the Chief Eddie Hoffman State Highway, to the refuge office and visitor center. The office is located across from the hospital (a structure known locally as the "yellow submarine"). From Bethel, most non-local visitors travel into the refuge by small aircraft.
The Yukon Delta NWR encompasses approximately 19 million acres within the northern boreal zone of southwestern Alaska. The Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers created this delta which includes extensive tidal wetlands that are scarcely above sea level and are frequently inundated by Bering Sea tides. The coastal plain is contrasted by uplands and mountains mostly to the north, east, and south but the relatively small Askinuk Mountains are located along the refuge's western coast and are the only part of the coastal plain that was glaciated. The Kilbuck Mountains occur along the eastern boundary of the refuge and range from 2,000 to 4,000 feet in elevation. Learn More>>
Over the course of time, the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers created one of the largest river deltas in the world. That delta, a generally flat marshland containing innumerable lakes and ponds, is the dominant landscape of the Yukon Delta Refuge. This region which was once part of the land mass called Beringia, or Bering Land Bridge, has been occupied for thousands of years. It continues to serve as home for over 25,000 people, mostly Yup'ik Eskimos who live in 35 villages scattered throughout the refuge. Learn More>>
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As is the case on most other Alaskan refuges, management activities on the Yukon Delta NWR focus on projects related to wildlife and habitat monitoring rather than any form of habitat manipulation. The information resulting from this monitoring forms the heart of the refuge's management program: an information exchange with the 25,000 residents that live in small isolated villages within the refuge boundary. Through organized groups such as the Waterfowl Conservation Committee, the Regional Subsistence Advisory Council, the State Fish and Game Advisory Committees, and the Kuskokwim Fisheries Working Group, refuge staff and area residents communicate concerns and address resource problems.
The refuge provides some of the nation's most productive subarctic goose habitat. Surveys and studies related to the productivity of goose and other waterfowl provide much of the information used to carry out the refuge's management activities. This work is conducted by refuge staff, in partnership with the Service's Migratory Bird Management office, the U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division, various universities and other partners.
Although most noted for waterfowl and other migratory bird habitat, the refuge also supports muskox, caribou, brown and black bears, wolves, and moose. These species are harvested by subsistence hunters, and surveys and studies are conducted in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to monitor the health of these populations.
Salmon runs that occur on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers provide a major source of food for the residents in the area. In cooperation with the State of Alaska, the refuge shares management jurisdiction for decisions that affect the commercial and subsistence harvest of these fish.
Lightning-caused wildfires occur every year on the refuge, but the vast majority of the land is low-lying tundra interspersed with lakes and rivers. Fires rarely exceed a few acres, and do not play a significant role in altering habitat.
The work described above can only be conducted with the help of tools to transport biologists and others to the far reaches of the refuge. Aircraft, boats and snowmachines make this possible, and serve as the counterparts to the ubiquitous pickup truck of Lower-48 refuges in carrying out day-to-day responsibilities.