U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Alaska National Wildlife Refuges


National Wildlife Refuge System Logo

The Mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. 

In Alaska, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 16 national wildlife refuges that are part of this network, totaling 76,774,229 acres.  Alaska refuges are some of the nation's last true wild places on earth, ranging in size from the 303,094 acres Izembek Refuge at the end of the Alaska Peninsula, to the 19.6 million acre Arctic Refuge stretching from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean.

National Wilderness Preservation System

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which today has grown to more than 104 million acres, approximately half of which are located in Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 21 designated Wilderness areas totaling approximately 18.6 million acres on 10 National Wildlife Refuges units in Alaska. Most wilderness areas on Refuges in Alaska were designated with passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (Pub. L. 96-487) (ANILCA), which also modified some provisions of the Wilderness Act to allow for the continuation of subsistence lifestyles and traditional activities. Wilderness lands on Alaska Refuges are managed according to the provisions of the Wilderness Act, except where there is a conflict with ANILCA, in which case the provisions of ANILCA prevail.

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A muskox relaxing alongside the Canning River
A muskox relaxing alongside the Canning River, Arctic NWR. Photo credit: USFWS/Katrina Liebich


Fly fishing
Fly fishing along a river, Kenai NWR. Photo Credit: Berkley Bedell/USFWS

Wildlife-dependent uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, and education, when compatible, are legitimate and appropriate uses of the Refuge System.

One of the guiding principles of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to maintain all public lands within a refuge as available for the uses described above. A special use permit is not required for the general public for most of these basic activities. Visitors and educators will find environmental education and natural and cultural history interpretation is provided at refuges.     

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Management, ranging from preservation to active manipulation of habitats and populations, is necessary to achieve Refuge System and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missions.

A great deal goes on behind the scenes to manage the Alaska's wildlife refuges; this guiding principle is a key to our success. Several different branches work towards management and conservation goals, including Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation, Fire Management, Law Enforcement, and more.

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A person overlooking Tustumena Glacier
Tustumena Glacier, Kenai NWR. Photo credit: USFWS

Cultural and Historical Significance

In addition to its wildlife resources, the National Wildlife Refuge System is steward to a rich cultural and historic legacy. Refuges in Alaska preserve 14,000 years of human history from the earliest settlers of the New World to Euro-American homesteaders and miners. Cultural resources are archaeological sites, places associated with important events or people, sacred and cultural sites, and buildings and structures.

The 4,000 known sites on refuges in Alaska belong to at least 20 prehistoric traditions, record the heritage of every modern Alaska Native group, and over 250 years of Euro-American colonization. Cultural treasures on Alaska refuges include prehistoric camps and villages, natural features associated with supernatural beings and monsters, gold rush ghost towns, roadhouses, trapping camps, and Alaska’s first producing oil well. Other nationally significant treasures include Russia’s first settlement in Alaska at Three Saints Bay, the Iditarod National Historic Trail, and well preserved World War II remains in the Aleutian Islands.

These places create personal links between people, our shared past, and the land around us. As a land-managing agency, the USFWS is committed to protecting and managing these irreplaceable resources in a spirit of stewardship for future generations to understand and enjoy.

Cultural Resources