Homeland of Koyukon Athabascans, the 3.5 million acre Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge lies within the extensive floodplain of the Koyukuk River of interior Alaska, about 270 miles west of Fairbanks. The refuge's rich wetlands combine with lowland boreal forests of spruce, birch and aspen to support a diversity of wildlife, from healthy numbers of moose populations to large waterfowl populations from four continental flyways.
Within the boreal forest of the refuge, a unique geological feature is found: the Nogahabara Sand Dunes. The roughly circular active dune field spans about six miles in diameter, and was formed thousands of years ago when wind-blown glacial sand was deposited at the base of the Nulato Hills. One needs only to step to the top of a 50-foot high dune to recognize its uniqueness. This active dune area contains about 16,000 acres and is only a small part of a Pleistocene dune field that is now mostly inactive. Four-hundred thousand acres of the refuge, including the dunes, are designated as Wilderness.
The National Wildlife Refuges in the Koyukon region of Alaska encompass a vast area of boreal forest, wetlands, lakes and rivers that is home to an abundance of waterfowl, songbirds, mammals, and fish. An experience of solitude in this intact ecosystem imparts the sense that this place is completely untouched by man. And yet, the land is thoroughly known and essential to people whose lives are intertwined with its bounty. We use our understanding of the respect, value, and love of this place by the people who live in, use, or simply treasure this wild land and sound biological research and monitoring to ensure proper stewardship of the Koyukuk, Northern Unit Innoko, and Nowitna National Wildlife Refuges.
This refuge was established in 1980 via the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Elders, mostly in their 60's and 70's, from communities in and near the refuges have a vast and valuable knowledge of the area's natural history. These people are among the last generation who grew up living off the land completely by hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. Their insight about past changes in animal abundance and habitat conditions are extremely valuable because wildlife studies were very limited before the refuges were established. Efforts to learn from local elders and record their observations include Raven's Story, a radio program produced in cooperation with Koyukuk/Nowitna NWR and Galena's KIYU Radio.