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"The Mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to preserve a national network of lands and waters for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife and plant resources of the United States for the benefit of present and future generations."
The refuge consists of 730,000 acres of land in east central Alaska, bordering Canada's Yukon Territory to the east, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve to the south, and the Alaska Highway to the north. Together these three areas of land make up the world's largest contiguous conservation unit. There are 16 refuges in Alaska; Tetlin is one of two that are road accessible. The others must be accessed by air or waterways. Its major landforms include broad flat river basins, extensive marshes and lakes. The refuge is located at the foothills of the Nutzotin and Mentasta mountains. The Chisana and Nabesna Rivers are two large glacial rivers that flow north through the refuge and join to form the Tanana River, one of Alaska's major rivers. The Tanana flows northwest into the Yukon River.
The refuge was primarily set aside because of its unique value as a waterfowl habitat. It has one of the highest densities of nesting waterfowl in Alaska; producing about 70,000-100,000 ducklings to flight stage a year. As a major migration corridor for land birds and waterfowl entering and leaving Alaska, the refuge provides habitat for 143 species of nesting birds and 47 migrants. Two hundred fifty thousand lesser sandhill cranes travel through the refuge to their nesting grounds further north. Cranes, an impressive site--often 300-500 birds at a time are seen and heard, vocalizing their presence in the sky.
Big game animals include moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bear, black bear, and wolf. Other animals include wolverine, lynx, marten, otter, red fox, coyote, beaver, muskrat, snowshoe hare and the mink.
Arctic grayling, burbot, lake trout, northern pike and whitefish are present in refuge lakes and streams. No significant salmon runs reach this far inland, although a small run of chum salmon may occur in late fall.
The entire refuge is open to consumptive and non-consumptive uses throughout the year in accordance with federal and state regulations. Access to most of the refuge is by small plane, riverboat or snowmobile. Foot access to the northern portion is available along the Alaska Highway from the Canada border to Gardner Creek.
As a part of ANILCA, these special values of Tetlin Refuge have been identified:
1. Bird diversity As the easternmost refuge in Alaska, Tetlin supports bird species that are rare or absent elsewhere in Alaska. Some of these species that nest on Tetlin Refuge include blue-winged teal, ring-necked duck, osprey, sharp-tailed grouse, and red-winged blackbird. The American coot, sora, and brown-headed cowbird, found on the refuge, are found nowhere else in Alaska.
2. Waterfowl Production The refuge was set aside primarily for its unique waterfowl values. It has one of the highest densities of nesting waterfowl found in Alaska, and annually produces 35,000 - 65,000 ducklings to flight stage in an optimum year.
3. Trumpeter swans The refuge supports an expanding population of this nationally important species. Several thousand swans, trumpeter and tundra swans, stage on the refuge. An ever-increasing number of swans nest here.
4. Environmental Education and Interpretation Tetlin is one of two refuges in Alaska accessible by road and having environmental education and interpretation as an ANILCA mandate. As the first refuge seen by road travelers entering Alaska, Tetlin Refuge is able to serve as an example of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Alaska. Interpretive displays along Tetlin's northern border present an array of habitats applicable to the landscape throughout Alaska.
5. Osprey Tetlin Flats which is part of Tetlin Refuge, supports one of the largest concentrations of osprey in Alaska.
6. Sand dunes of the Tanana Valley. Composed of wind-blown glacial flour from the parabolic dune southeast of Northway and at Big John are geological formations uncommon to interior Alaska.
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