Thriving seabird nesting colonies, including many common murres, were one of the original resources protected by Cape Newenham National Wildlife Refuge in 1969. Photo USFWS/Jerry L. Hout
Prior to 1969, the area that was to become Togiak Refuge was part of the public domain, under the jurisdiction of Bureau of Land Management. On January 20, 1969, the Secretary of the Interior issued Public Land Order 4583, withdrawing 265,000 acres of that area and designating it the Cape Newenham National Wildlife Refuge. With this order, the Fish and Wildlife Service assumed its first refuge management responsibilities in the area to protect and preserve the "outstanding wilderness values" of Cape Newenham.
The majority of lands that were to become Togiak Refuge were withdrawn in 1971 under Section 17(d)(2) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). The withdrawals covered all forms of appropriation under the public land laws, including selection under the Alaska Statehood Act and the mining and mineral leasing laws. The Settlement Act directed the Secretary of the Interior to study all (d)(2) "national interest land" withdrawals as possible additions to the National Wildlife Refuge, Park, Forest, and Wild and Scenic River Systems.
The Secretary withdrew additional parts of what was to become Togiak Refuge under Section 17(d)(1) of the Settlement Act. These "public interest lands" were also withdrawn from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws, with the exception of metalliferous locations.
Congress failed to take action before the five-year deadline expired for the (d)(2) lands being considered for additions in the National Park, Refuge, Forest, and Wild and Scenic River Systems. So, on November 16, 1978, the Secretary of the Interior invoked his emergency withdrawal powers, under Section 204(e) of the Federal Land Policy Management Act, to protect these lands, and withdrew nearly 110 million acres of land throughout Alaska. Most of the present Togiak Refuge was covered by this Order, including the (d)(1) and (d)(2) lands and lands which had been available to the Natives but had not yet been selected.
Fifteen months later, on February 11, 1980, the Secretary issued Public Land Order 5703, under section 204 of the Federal Land Policy Management Act, establishing Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
This order withdrew all lands subject to existing rights for up to 20 years from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws. As a refuge, Togiak became subject to all of the laws and policies of the Fish and Wildlife Service which govern the administration of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 chose a route vastly different from previous solutions to aboriginal land claims. Departing from "Lower 48" precedents of reservations and government-subsidized industries, the compromise bill empowered Alaska's Natives with cash and land conveyances. It further provided that corporations would administer this division of wealth.
The settlement act abolished aboriginal title to lands in exchange for forty million acres and compensation totaling almost $1 billion, creating perhaps the largest single transfer of wealth from a government to a group of indigenous peoples. Thirteen regional and 220 village corporations were established in 1981, the majority of land entitlements have been conveyed to them. The Togiak Refuge is separated into part of two regional corporations. The Kuskokwim region is managed by the Calista Corporation and the Bristol Bay region is managed by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation.
On December 2, 1980, Congress enacted the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). This act, among other things, rescinded Public Land Order 5703 and designated all of the withdrawn land as a refuge. In addition, the Act made Cape Newenham National Wildlife Refuge a unit of Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. The first refuge manager subsequently reported for duty in October 1981.
Section 303(6)(B) of ANILCA sets forth the following major purposes for which the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge was established and shall be managed:
- (i) to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity including, but not limited to, salmonoids, marine birds and mammals, migratory birds and large mammals (including their restoration to historic levels);
- (ii) to fulfill the international treaty obligations of the United States with respect to fish and wildlife and their habitats;
- (iii) to provide, in a manner consistent with purposes set forth in (i) and (ii), the opportunity for continued subsistence uses by local residents; and
- (iv) to ensure, to the maximum extent practicable and in a manner consistent with the purposes set forth in (i), water quality and necessary water quantity within the refuge.
ANILCA Section 101 states that Togiak Refuge and other conservation units in Alaska were established to preserve their "nationally significant" scenic, wilderness, recreational, wildlife and other values for the benefit of present and future generations. It further states that:
- . . . it is the intent of Congress in this Act to preserve unrivaled scenic and geological values associated with natural landscapes; to provide for the maintenance of sound populations of, and habitat for, wildlife species of inestimable value to the citizens of Alaska and the Nation, including those species dependent on vast relatively undeveloped areas; . . . to protect the resources related to subsistence needs; to protect and preserve historical and archeological sites, rivers, and lands, and to preserve wilderness resource values and related recreational opportunities including but not limited to hiking, canoeing, fishing, and sport hunting, within large Arctic and subarctic wildlands and on free-flowing rivers; and to maintain opportunities for scientific research and undisturbed ecosystems.
ANILCA called for the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) to describe "special values" of the refuge. Special values of Togiak Refuge are the following:
Togiak Refuge is part of a nationwide National Wildlife Refuge System, administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Learn more about the history of the Togiak Refuge, the Refuge System, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
- The Togiak Wilderness covers about half of the refuge. The wilderness area includes pristine rivers, clear mountain lakes, and steep-sloped mountains. It provides outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. The rugged Ahklun and Wood River Mountains, partly within the wilderness area, are noteworthy for their scenic values.
- The Kanektok, Goodnews, and Togiak drainages have important subsistence and sport fishery values, containing salmon, Dolly Varden, and rainbow trout among other species. The rivers are free flowing and possess excellent scenic, wildlife, riparian, and recreational values. They are important for subsistence uses. Parts of all three drainages are in the Togiak Wilderness.
- Sport fishing is another special value of Togiak Refuge. The refuge attracts anglers from around the world, including Germany, Japan, France, Denmark, and Canada, as well as Alaskans and other Americans. Sport fishing occurs in most refuge waters, with major concentrations of five species of salmon, grayling, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden occurring in the Togiak, Kanektok, and Goodnews rivers. These rivers have pristine habitat, excellent freshwater rearing conditions, and limited access.
Learn more about the history of southwest Alaska and the culture of the area.
Last updated: July 24, 2008