Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Alaska's two largest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim, form the heart of the 19.2 million-acre Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Almost 70 percent of the refuge is below 100 feet in elevation, a broad, flat delta stitched together by rivers and streams and dotted with countless lakes, sloughs and ponds. Bordering this expanse of tundra and wetlands are forest and shrub habitat and uplands sporting mountains more than 4,000 feet high.
Nelson and Nunivak Islands, off the western coast, are also part of the refuge. The million-plus acre Nunivak Island lies 20 miles off the coast and is of volcanic origin, with several peaks from 1,000 to 1,600 feet. Coastal bluffs range from 100 to 450 feet high while inland are active sand dunes greater than 100 feet in height. The second largest island is Nelson Island, which is separated from the mainland by the Ninglick River to the north, Baird Inlet to the northeast, and the Kolavinarak River to the east.
The delta is rich in wildlife and supports one of the largest aggregations of water birds in the world and a spectacle takes place every spring as millions of ducks, geese and other water birds return to the refuge to nest. The refuge's most productive wildlife habitat is the coastal region bordering the Bering Sea. This narrow strip of land is unquestionably the most productive goose nesting habitat in Alaska. Hundreds of miles of rivers and streams also provide spawning and rearing habitat for 44 species of fish including all five Pacific salmon. Both brown and black bears, caribou, moose, wolves and musk oxen inhabit the drier uplands.
Unlike more remote refuges in Alaska, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is among the most populated rural areas in Alaska and within the refuge are 35 villages where 25,000 Yup'ik Eskimos make their home. This population gives the region a rich culture based on a subsistent lifestyle. Subsistence fishing far exceeds sport fishing use throughout the refuge. The main activities for visitors in the refuge are fishing, wildlife viewing and photography, kayaking, rafting and hunting.