This refuge provides important habitat for thousands of waterfowl
Remote and isolated, even by Alaska standards, the 4.6 million acre Innoko National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most important waterfowl areas in Interior Alaska. More than half of the refuge is wetlands that provides critical nesting and molting habitat for thousands of geese, ducks, loons and swans.
The refuge is split between two units. The Northern Unit, also called Kaiyah Flats, is 751,000 acres located adjacent to the Yukon River southwest of Galena. The much larger Southern Unit is 3.85 million acres surrounding the Innoko River.
Innoko is located in a transition zone between the forested taiga interior of Alaska and the treeless tundra of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Approximately half of the refuge consists of black spruce muskeg, wet meadows, and sedge or horsetail marshes set with innumerable lakes and ponds of varying size. The rest of the terrain is marked by hills, most of which are less than 1,000 feet in elevation.
Frequent flooding of Innoko's many rivers and streams helps maintain the rich willow sandbar habitat that provides winter food for the refuge's moose population, as well as for beaver that are common along virtually all of Innoko's waterways. Barren ground caribou from the Beaver Mountain herd winter in Innoko when deep snows move them down from the uplands, while both black and grizzle bear and wolves are present year round. Marten, lynx, red fox, river otter and wolverine also make Innoko home.
Because there are no roads or vehicles allowed inside the refuge, visitors arrive primarily by plane. The most practical way to explore the vast Innoko Refuge is by floating down the Innoko, Iditarod, or Dishna Rivers. Visitors arrange to fly their boats and gear to the upstream reach of the proposed trip and then arranged to be picked up somewhere downstream. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound with the possibility of sighting more than 124 bird species and 30 mammal species.
Adventurous anglers are also drawn to the refuge. The Innoko River and its vast number of connected lakes provide habitat for large and aggressive northern pike. These fish often grown to more than 45 inches in length leading many to speculate that the next Alaska State trophy northern pike will come from the Innoko River system. Additionally whitefish, grayling and an incidental salmon are taken from the waters of the Innoko River. Hunting is also a popular activity in the refuge.