Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Yukon Flats Refuge has remarkable wetlands and boreal forest in the Yukon River watershed. South of better-known Arctic Refuge, this area was placed at grave risk from a proposed Bush Administration land swap and oil drilling.
However, in March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed course preferring the "No Land Exchange" Alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and on April 21, 2010, the Alaska Regional Director nullified the draft land exchange "agreement in principle." This victory culminated a 6-year fight by conservationists and Alaska Native tribal governments opposing the land swap facilitating harmful oil and gas development within the Yukon Flats Refuge.
Evading Congressional intent to protect an intact ecosystem, the land trade would remove habitats from the refuge to allow incompatible oil and gas drilling on the land. Roads, pipelines, and pollution also threaten Beaver Creek and the White Mountains.
Yukon Flats, third largest in the National Wildlife Refuge System, straddles the Arctic Circle and 300 miles of the Yukon River. Diverse wetlands with 40,000 lakes and ponds are fed by clean rivers flowing from White Mountains and Brooks Range foothills.
The refuge hosts millions of migrating waterfowl, moose, wolves, Dall sheep, Yukon River salmon, Arctic grayling, and other wildlife.
Ten Gwich’in and Koyukon villages are located in or next to the Refuge. Dozens of Alaska Native and Canadian communities depend on Yukon River salmon. America’s birdwatchers and hunters sight birds hatched here. Visitors enjoy the wild rivers.
The proposed land swap would have severed the refuge in half and harmed wildlife habitats. Oil spills risk the mighty Yukon River and salmon runs vital for fisheries supporting Gwich’in communities and dozens of other Alaska Native and Canadian communities. The Obama Administration reversed course in 2010 and halted the land swap.
In the warming Refuge, 10% of lakes have dried up, lesser scaup nesting is down, forest fires and insect outbreaks are up, and salmon are unhealthy. Gwich’in tribes, concerned that rapid changes undermine their cultural survival, have launched renewable energy.