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National Wildlife Refuge

Travelers typically use rafts, canoes, and kayaks to float the upper section of the Nowitna River
101 Front St.
P.O. Box 287
Galena, AK   99741
E-mail: nowitna@fws.gov
Phone Number: 907-656-1231
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Canoeist on the Nowitna River
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Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge

The heart of Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge is a lowland basin of forests and wetlands that forms the floodplain of the meandering Nowitna River. The Refuge's climate is typically marked by light precipitation, mild winds, long, hard winters and short, relatively warm, summers. The hills that circle the refuge lowlands are capped by alpine tundra.

It takes a week in a canoe, or more than an hour in a small plane, to traverse the Refuge's 2.1 million acres of pristine wildlife habitat. Approximately 223 miles of the Nowitna River's 283-mile length flow within the boundaries of the Refuge. Fish species inhabiting the river and its related lakes and streams include sheefish, burbot, whitefish, sucker, king and chum salmon, northern pike and arctic grayling.

The slow, meandering lower reaches of the Nowitna wander through one of Alaska's many productive waterfowl nurseries. The grassy margins of the river, surrounding lakes, and waterways provide breeding habitat for trumpeter swans, white-fronted geese, canvasback ducks, cranes, and many other migratory species. More than 120 bird species have been sighted on the Refuge during summer months, but only a few dozen hardy species remain through winters.

Mature white spruce in the forested lowlands provide cover and den sites for marten, and trapping these and other furbearers remains important to the economy of people in the region. In fact, refuge lands have been used for centuries by Koyukon Athabascans for hunting, fishing, trapping and other subsistence activities. Moose, wolves, lynx, wolverine and both black and grizzly bears might be encountered anywhere on the Refuge.

Getting There . . .
The Nowitna Refuge lies in the vast roadless region of northern and western Alaska. Commuter aircraft provide regularly scheduled air transportation from Fairbanks and Anchorage to Galena, where the Refuge headquarters is located. The two villages nearest the Refuge, Ruby and Tanana, have less frequent air service, but there are local guides available. Visitors may charter small aircraft for transport to the Refuge from Galena or McGrath. Most visitors travel to the Nowitna Refuge by boat, coming 240 miles down the Yukon River from the Dalton Highway Bridge or 280 miles down the Tanana River from Nenana. Local residents travel extensively on the Yukon River by boat in summer and snow machine in the winter.

Whatever your reason for visiting Nowitna, be sure to come well equipped with headnets and bug dope during summer months (May through September), when mosquitos and other biting insects are by far the most numerous of the Refuge's abundant wildlife! Also be prepared for travel in a remote area, and bring first aid supplies, well-tested equipment and extra gear for weather changes and emergencies.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The Nowitna Refuge ranges from flat lowlands dotted with wetlands, to rolling hills capped by alpine tundra. The Nowitna River, a nationally designated Wild River, winds for 223 miles through the heart of the Refuge. The river and its tributaries shape the surrounding land, carving at forested cut-banks and creating gravel bars where wildflowers, grasses, herbs and willows sprout.

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The Nowitna Refuge is a place where the visitor may step back in time. The landscape,though ever shifting, remains much as it has for thousands of years. People first occupied the interior of Alaska more than 10,000 years ago, depending on the abundant natural resources for food, clothing and shelter. The Koyukon Athabascan people living in the area today come from a long tradition of dependence on the land for survival.

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Perhaps staying overnight on the Nowitna in a remote and isolated setting offers one of the greatest rewards to the visitor. The Refuge is open to camping, but the visitor must be prepared to be completely self-sufficient. Please choose durable grounds for your campsite, such as gravel bars, and pack out all your trash. When traveling along the rivers please be respectful of the numerous cabins and fish camps that usually mark private inholdings. To obtain the latest information on conditions we suggest that you check in with the Refuge office before you head out to camp.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
The main purpose of the Refuge is to conserve fish, wildlife and habitats in their natural diversity. Fish and wildlife species targeted by the legislation establishing the Refuge include: trumpeter swans, white-fronted geese, canvasback ducks, moose, caribou, marten, wolverines, salmon, sheefish, and northern pike. Other Refuge purposes are to fulfill international treaty obligations, to provide for continued subsistence opportunities and to insure water quality and quantity.

Refuge programs are aimed at maintaining its lands in their natural state, gathering baseline biological data, maintaining healthy populations of fish and wildlife, and providing information and education to the public. Refuge management is complicated by a matrix of differing land jurisdictions and authorities (federal, state and private), especially near Ruby and Tanana, two villages along the Yukon River near the Refuge.

The task of monitoring refuge resources extends beyond its borders, and involves partners including local village tribal councils, other State and Federal agencies, and research associates in other countries. The Refuge currently has cooperative studies underway in Canada and Mexico, two countries which host many of Nowitna's important migratory bird species during parts of their annual life cycles.

Subsistence hunting, gathering and trapping by local residents, mainly Koyukon Athabascan Indians, is the main public use on the Refuge. However, moose are eagerly sought by locals and visitors alike, and moose management has required increased attention in recent years. Controversies about allocation of fish and game resources (especially salmon and moose) among user groups, along with increased commercial guiding and transporting activities for moose hunting and pike fishing, have made dialog between refuge staff and the various user groups a priority of the Service.

The Refuge strives to maintain the region's natural fire cycle by carefully managing fires near settlements but allowing nature to take its course in areas where naturally occurring fires pose little hazard to humans.

The Nowitna River is a congressionally-designated Wild River, and special efforts are made to protect the river and its corridor. The Nowitna River provides a rare chance for hunters, floaters, and fishers to enjoy a unique wilderness experience in the heart of Alaska.