131 Yukon Intermontane Plateaus Tayga Province

Interior Alaska, 56,100 mi2 (145,300 km2)


Land-surface form.--A series of broad valleys, dissected uplands, and lowland basins covered with alluvial deposits extends across interior Alaska between the Brooks and Alaska Ranges. Four major rivers, the Yukon, Tanana, Koyukuk, and upper Kuskokwim, provide the area's outstanding hydrologic features. All four form wide valleys, with extensively braided channels; in some areas, the valleys contain hundreds of small lakes and marshes. Elevations are generally less than 2,000 ft (600 m).

Boreal forest of stunted black spruce Boreal forest of stunted black spruce in the Yukon Province, Kuskokwim River, Alaska.

Climate.--The semiarid climate has extreme temperatures. Summers are short and hot, with temperatures up to 100F (38C); winters are long and severe, with temperatures as low as -75F (-60C). Average annual precipitation is only 17 in (430 mm). Temperature inversions, frequent in upland areas in winter, result in warmer temperatures on lower slopes than in bottom lands.

Vegetation.--The major river bottoms support dense white spruce- cottonwood-poplar forests on floodplains and southfacing slopes up to about 1,000 ft (300 m). The undergrowth is dense shrubbery formed by green and thinleaf alder, willow, dogwood, and berries. The outer valley edges support evergreen and coniferous forests, often with pure stands of black spruce. The undergrowth consists of willow, dwarf birch, crowberry, fern, blueberry, lichens, and mosses. Upland areas are generally covered by a rather dense white spruce-birch-aspen-poplar forest. Pure stands of white spruce grow near streams. Typical undergrowth includes willow, alder, fern, berries, grasses, and mosses. Root systems are shallow. Water balance is likely the factor limiting growth in most of these areas because of the hot, dry summer climate. Old river terraces, ponds, and sloughs contain scattered but extensive bogs where the vegetation is chiefly sphagnum and other mosses, sedges, bog rosemary, and Labrador-tea. Marginal areas may support willow and alder.

Soils.--River bottom and lower slope soils are generally deep, well-drained Inceptisols over sands, silts, and gravels that are only slightly weathered. Permafrost is discontinuous in major river valleys. Soils on northfacing slopes are shallow and poorly developed, with continuous permafrost. Upland soils that support spruce-hardwood forests are well-drained, shallow Inceptisols over continuous permafrost. Bog soils are Histosols.

Fauna.--The spruce-hardwood forests provide excellent habitat for furbearers and other mammals. Brush zones and immature forests recovering from fires furnish especially good browse for moose. Common game animals in addition to moose include black and brown bear, wolf, wolverine, and caribou. Smaller mammals include lynx, red fox, beaver, mink, muskrat, weasel, river otter, marten, red and northern flying squirrel, and deer mouse.

Woodland game birds find plentiful habitat. Upland birds include northern hawk-owl, spruce grouse, and boreal chickadee.