Official State of Alaska Vacation and Travel Information


Selawik National Wildlife Refuge  

Selawik National Wildlife Refuge

The 2.15-million acre Selawik National Wildlife Refuge is situated on the Arctic Circle to the east of Kotzebue Sound and occupies a unique variety of landforms in northwest Alaska. The Waring Mountains and Kobuk National Park border the refuge on the north. To the south lie the Selawik Hills and the Purcell Mountains. Some of the landscapes found on the refuge include alpine tundra, Arctic tundra and taiga (forest), lake and wetland complexes, large river deltas, open grass and sedge meadows, and once glaciated mountains and river valleys.

This area is a transition zone where the northernmost boreal forests give way to open Arctic tundra but Selawik's landscape is so diverse it includes a set of rolling, vegetated, sand dunes that were formed by the last glacial recession. These dunes are the remnant of a much larger system that once included the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes to the north.

One of the main reasons the refuge was created was for the protection of the Western Arctic caribou herd, the largest herd in Alaska at 490,000 animals. The Western Arctic caribou migrate through the refuge on their way between calving and wintering grounds, traveling hundreds of miles annually. Other large mammals on the refuge include moose, which began using the refuge in the 1940s, and occasionally musk-oxen. Both black and grizzly bears are present due to the occurrence of both forest and tundra habitats, as are wolves, Arctic and red fox, lynx, wolverine, beaver and marten.

The Selawik and Kobuk River deltas provide invaluable habitat for hundreds of thousands of migratory bird species. During the short Arctic summers, large numbers of white-fronted geese and majestic tundra swans arrive along with sandhill cranes and a horde of other shorebirds. Large populations of sheefish and other whitefish inhabit the waters of the refuge with some sheefish approaching 60 pounds.

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