The Bristol Bay watershed is a vast and naturally functioning region of mountain ranges, lowland forests, tundra, lakes and rivers. It is one of the biologically richest areas of the state, with vigorous populations of caribou, moose, brown and black bears, wolverine, wolves, lynx, beaver and marten.
Wild salmon are at the heart of this richness. The Nushagak River , the fifth largest volume river in Alaska , supports a great diversity of freshwater and anadromous fish species, including five species of Pacific salmon.
The Nushagak River hosts the largest sport fishery for Chinook salmon in the United States , with the third largest chinook run in the country. Together, with its sister watershed, the Kvichak, the Nushagak contributes a large portion of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon runs—the largest runs in the world. In addition, there are significant numbers of world class rainbow trout, grayling, Arctic char, Dolly Varden and non-game species.
The Conservancy identified the Nushagak River as an area of biological significance in its ecological assessment of the Bristol Bay and Alaska Peninsula ecoregions. The state has also designated the Nushagak Mulchatna Rivers Recreation Area as an Area Meriting Special Attention, and the Bristol Bay Area Plan for State Lands identified the Nushagak and Mulchatna River drainages as priorities for conservation. However, lands currently managed explicitly for conservation include Wood Tikchik State Park and small portions of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Clark National Park . When the watershed of the Wood River , which enters the Nushagak near its mouth in Bristol Bay , is excluded, only 3% of the remaining 4.5 million acre watershed is explicitly managed for conservation. The watershed is the largest and yet one of the least protected areas of biological significance in the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay ecoregions.