At 1.637 million acres, Kanuti Refuge is about the size of the state of Delaware. The Refuge straddles the Arctic Circle, with approximately a third of the Refuge above the Circle and two-thirds below it. Kanuti Refuge is a prime example of Alaska's boreal ecosystem, the forests of which are dominated by black and white spruce with Alaskan (or paper) birch, aspen and poplar trees occurring less commonly.
For the benefit of present and future generations and in partnership with others, stewards of Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge will conserve fish and wildlife populations and their habitats in their natural diversity, focusing on the refuge’s wild and natural character, biological integrity, and scientific value, as driven by biological and physical processes throughout time.
Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose. Alaska's 16 Refuges conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity (for Kanuti, this includes but is not limited to white-fronted geese and other waterfowl and migratory birds, moose, caribou, and furbearers); fulfill international treaty obligations of the United States with respect to fish and wildlife and their habitats; provide opportunities for continued subsistence uses by local residents; support scientific research; and protect water quality and quantity.
On December 18, 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed to settle Alaska Native land claims. The passing of this legislation required the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture propose to Congress the designation of national parks, refuges, forests, wilderness and wild and scenic river systems in Alaska. As a result, pioneering U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists James G. King and Calvin J. Lensink, suggested the Kanuti Flats, a large wetland basin nourished seasonally by rivers and rich in nutrients, be permanently protected for breeding waterfowl.
On December 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Alaska National Interests Conservation Act, establishing Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
In September 2008 a revised Comprehensive Conservation Plan providing broad policy guidance and management direction for Kanuti Refuge for the next 15 years was completed.