U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service


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.

The prominent provisions of ANILCA that modify the Wilderness Act include:

  • Section 811 (b) permits the “appropriate use for subsistence purposes of snowmobiles, motorboats, and other means of surface transportation traditionally employed for such purposes by local residents, subject to reasonable regulation.”
  • Section 1110 (a) permits “the use of snow machines (during periods of adequate snow cover, or frozen river conditions in the case of wild and scenic rivers), motorboats, airplanes and non-motorized surface transportation methods for traditional activities (where such activities are permitted by [ANILCA] or other law) and for travel to and from villages and homesites.”
  • Section 1315 (c), provides that “previously existing public use cabins within wilderness designated by [ANILCA], may be permitted to continue and may be maintained or replaced subject to such restriction as the Secretary deems necessary to preserve the wilderness character of the area.”
  • Section 1315 (d), authorizes the Service “to construct and maintain a limited number of new public use cabins and shelters if such cabins and shelters are necessary for the protection of the public health and safety.”
Wilderness Area Size (acres) Refuge Unit
Aleutain Islands (1980) 1,300,000.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Bering Sea (1970) 81,340.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Bogoslof (1970) 175.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Chamisso (1975) 455.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Forrester Island (1970) 2,832.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Hazy Islands (1970) 32.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Semidi (1980) 250,000.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Simeonof (1976) 25,855.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
St. Lazaria (1970) 65.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Tuxedni (1970) 5,566.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Unimak (1980) 910,000.00 Alaska Maritime NWR
Mollie Beattie (1980) 8,000,000.00 Arctic NWR
Becharof (1980) 400,000.00 Becharof NWR
Innoko (1980) 1,240,000.00 Innoko NWR
Izembek (1980) 307,981.76 Izembek NWR
Kenai (1980) 1,354,247.00 Kenai NWR
Koyukuk (1980) 400,000.00 Koyukuk NWR
Selawik (1980) 240,000.00 Selawik NWR
Togiak (1980) 2,270,799.00 Togiak NWR
Andreafsky (1980) 1,300,000.00 Yukon Delta NWR
Nunivak (1980) 600,000.00 Yukon Delta NWR
Togiak Nation Wildlife Refuge
Togiak Nation Wildlife Refuge. Photo by: USFWS/Steve Hillebrand