Management Areas

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(Adam Grimm/ USFWS)


Some areas of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge are recognized for their unique values and are managed for the protection of those values. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study all of the non-wilderness lands within Alaska refuges and recommend areas suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. ANILCA also designated one river in the Refuge as a National Wild River (Beaver Creek) and identified two additional Refuge rivers (lower Sheenjek and Porcupine) for further study and possible future protection under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Proposed Wilderness Area

The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System to protect uniquely wild areas from human development. In 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through the Comprehensive Conservation Plan, selected 650,000 acres in the White and Crazy Mountains as meeting the criteria for designation based on the natural quality of the landscape, the opportunities for primitive recreation and solitude, the sufficient acreage under federal ownership available for protection, and the area’s unique geologic features. 

The White and Crazy mountains are a scenic range of jagged, white limestone peaks on the southern border of Yukon Flats. The White Mountains are home to the only population of Dall sheep on the refuge. Moose, bears, wolves, caribou, and lynx also roam these hills. Beaver Creek, a designated National Wild River, winds through a segment of the mountains before emptying into the Yukon River. Sparse rainfall occurs in this region, and the little that does is quickly absorbed by the porous limestone and drained away. The area’s remoteness, lack of furbearing animals, and scarce gold resources has historically limited human development.
Although this area was proposed for wilderness designation through the 1987 Comprehensive Conservation Plan, no action has been taken to formally designate the area.

View Proposed Wilderness Area Map

National Wild and Scenic Rivers

In 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law, creating the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The purpose of this system is to protect in free-flowing condition “selected rivers of the Nation, which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values.” In order to designate a river, the river must be studied and recommended for designation to the President by the Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of the Interior. The President then forwards the recommendation to Congress, who decides whether to pass a law designating the river as a National Wild and Scenic River.

Beaver Creek
Designated Wild River

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) designated the upper 127-mile portion of Beaver Creek as a National Wild River, protecting it under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The first 111 miles of Beaver Creek flow through the White Mountains National Recreation Area (administered by the Bureau of Land Management); the final 16 miles flow through the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Since Beaver Creek flows through land administered by both the Bureau of Land Management and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, management is a cooperative effort. This beautiful waterway provides a variety of primitive recreational opportunities including floating, camping, fishing, hunting and observing wildlife.

Beaver Creek Management Plan 

Lower Sheenjek River
Proposed Wild River

On January 19, 2001, the President of the United States recommended designation of the entire lower Sheenjek River as a National Wild River. The Sheenjek River is a major tributary of the Porcupine River. It begins in the Brooks Mountain Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and flows for 200 miles, including through the Yukon Flats Refuge, where it empties into the Porcupine River. The river’s lower 70 miles are pristine, flowing through broad alluvial plains forested with stands of spruce, aspen, cottonwood, and birch.
If acted upon by the U.S. Congress, the entire Sheenjek River—from its headwaters in the Arctic Refuge to its mouth on the Yukon Flats Refuge—would be protected as a national Wild River. This legislative action would facilitate consistent management and protect the free-flowing nature of the Sheenjek in perpetuity.

View Lower Sheenjek River Map

Porcupine River
Studied for Wild River designation, but determined not suitable 

The Porcupine River is one of the Yukon River’s longest tributaries, stretching over 500 miles from its mouth near Fort Yukon into Yukon Territory, Canada. In compliance with ANILCA, the Porcupine River was evaluated for its eligibility and suitability for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. In 1984, the National Park Service concluded that the Porcupine River was eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic river, but non-suitable for two main reasons. First, the Porcupine River serves as an essential water highway for local travel and commerce, and there was concern that designation might constrain uses of the river for transportation purposes. Second, there was no support for designation from either the State of Alaska, who owns the river bed from bank to bank at ordinary high water, or from private landowners, who have extensive inholdings along the river, particularly along its lower reaches within the Yukon Flats Refuge. Despite its lack of designation, the Porcupine River remains a free-flowing and unpolluted waterbody that the public can enjoy through many primitive recreational opportunities. 

Map of Refuge Rivers

Selected and Conveyed Lands

The Refuge boundaries enclose approximately 11.1 million acres, of which 8.63 million acres are under federal ownership and 2.5 million acres are under private ownership. 

Today, about 23% of land within the refuge boundary is Native-owned or Native-selected. These lands were selected by Native groups under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) in the 1970s before the establishment of the Refuge. Non-refuge lands belong to Doyon Regional Corporation; the villages of Beaver, Birch Creek, Chalkyitsik, Circle, Fort Yukon and Stevens Village; the State of Alaska; and individual Native allotment holders. Selected lands that have yet to be conveyed continue to be managed as part of the Refuge.  

In 1867, the United States purchased the Territory of Alaska from Russia and all lands not under private ownership were conveyed to the federal government. At that time, Native ownership of traditional lands was not recognized, although later federal legislation established Native occupancy of land as a legal claim to ownership. When Alaska gained statehood in 1959, the Alaska Statehood Act allowed the state government to claim lands deemed vacant. The federal government subsequently processed state land selections without taking into account existing Native land claims. Under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, 40 million acres of surface and subsurface land rights throughout the state were distributed to Native Alaskans in order to settle land disputes originating from the purchase of Alaska from Russia and the Alaska Statehood Act.

View Land Ownership Map