Steese National Conservation Area

History and Natural Setting


The Athabascan Indians were probably the first settlers in this area. They occupied sections of Birch Creek to hunt for moose and waterfowl and to fish.

Miners moved into the area in 1893. Two Russian Koyukon men, Pitka Pavaloff and Sergai Cherosky, panned for gold at what is now known as Pitka’s Bar on Birch Creek. When they returned the following year, they were followed by more than 100 other miners who began prospecting on adjoining tributaries and eventually seized Pavaloff and Cherosky's claims.

Other entrepreneurs populated the area by blazing trails, freighting goods and establishing roadhouses. Old miner and trapper cabins still remain standing along the river. These structures and the items found with them are important pieces of our history that belong to everyone. It is important not to disturb them.

The Steese Highway, completed in 1927, and the Steese NCA were named after James G. Steese, a  former president of the Alaska Road Commission.

Wildlife and Fish

 Two caribou on top of a ridge 
Caribou of the Fortymile herd 
The Steese NCA provides habitat for caribou, moose, Dall sheep, grizzly and black bear, furbearers, small game, raptors, waterfowl, and numerous species of small mammals and birds. One endangered species, the peregrine falcon, as well as bald eagles are known to nest in the area.
Portions of the Steese NCA are used by the White Mountains and the Fortymile caribou herds. Caribou are migratory animals, and the exact location of areas they use may change from year to year as herd size fluctuates and/or migration routes change. 
Streams and rivers within the Steese NCA are home to a number of fish species, including Arctic grayling, round whitefish, burbot, northern pike, slimy sculpin, and longnose sucker. Small numbers of King and chum salmon are found in some of the larger streams and rivers.


  Big Windy Creek in the South Unit of the SNCA
 Big Windy Creek in the South Unit of the SNCA
Alpine tundra, tussocks and boreal forest are among the many different types of plant communities in the Steese NCA.
Alpine tundra, found on ridges and mountain tops above the timberline, is characterized by dwarf shrubs, forbs, grasses, sedges and lichens. Near the timberline, there may be significant quantities of dwarfed white spruce.
Tussock areas are flat to moderately sloping with poorly drained soils that support a cover of tussocks (clumps of sedges and grasses growing from small mounds), as well as scattered or stunted spruce.
Lower elevations are vegetated with species typical of the boreal forest. Black spruce, sphagnum mosses, and scattered shrubs and willows are found in poorly drained areas where permanently frozen soil (permafrost) is near the surface. Better-drained hillsides and valley floors are home to white spruce, birch, willow and aspen. Blueberry and cranberry bushes provide vivid fall colors as well as tasty berries enjoyed by wildlife and people alike.

Research Natural Areas

The Steese NCA contains two research natural areas (RNAs), designated as part of a national network of sites that are uniquely suited for natural research and education. Each RNA illustrates one or more ecological phenomena particularly well. In the South Unit the Big Windy Hot Springs RNA includes unusual geologic and vegetative features at a natural hot springs. The North Unit's Mount Prindle Research Natural Area is centered on a glaciated alpine region surrounding 5,286-foot (1,611 m) Mount Prindle.
 A woman looks across an alpine valley through binoculars.
A hiker uses binoculars to look for wildlife near Mount Prindle.