Area History


 Subsistence and Fur Trapping
Native Americans within the Yukon Flats at the time of European contact included several bands of Athabascan Indians, highly mobile hunters dependent on fisheries resources and big game, primarily moose and caribou. Non-Native people first came to the area because of an exceptional abundance of furbearers. The Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Yukon, centrally located within what is now the refuge, in 1847. After the U. S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, Hudson’s Bay Company was forced to relocate to Canadian soil, and the Alaska Commercial Company assumed operations in Fort Yukon.

Discovery of Gold
Gold was discovered on Birch Creek in 1893, and the community of Circle rapidly expanded to a population of more than 1,000 people during the boom that followed. Although the gold rush era ended, fur trapping continued to expand, and by the 1920s Fort Yukon had become the most important fur center in Alaska.

Proposed Hydroelectric Project
During the late 1950s, a major hydroelectric dam project was proposed for the Yukon River at Rampart Canyon, 200 miles downriver from the refuge. That dam, if constructed, would have flooded the entire Yukon Flats and the villages within it, creating a lake larger than Lake Erie. Environmental organizations, hunters, Alaska Native groups, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took a firm stand against this proposed project. In order to illustrate the importance of the Yukon Flats to national waterfowl populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted an extensive waterfowl banding effort . The study showed that birds breeding at the Yukon Flats during the summer overwintered throughout the entire United States , supplementing each of the four North American flyways. The final report stated that “Nowhere in the history of water development in North America have the fish and wildlife losses anticipated to result from a single project been so overwhelming.” As a result, official protection of the Yukon Flats by the federal government began in 1978 with the designation of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Monument.

Rampart Dam

      Map of the giant reservoir that would have been created with the construction of the Rampart Dam.