Western Arctic -- A Natural Treasure
The land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is the nation's largest, wildest landscape. This area in the Western Arctic supports the calving grounds of our nation's largest caribou herd, the highest concentration of grizzly bears and wolverines in the Arctic, and critical habitat for millions of shorebirds and waterfowl.
Spanning 23.5 million acres across the western North Slope of Alaska, the Reserve is the largest single unit of public lands in the nation. The Alaska Native communities that live along the Reserve have maintained a subsistence lifestyle for thousands of years based on the Reserve's living resources. While oil and gas activities have a place in the Reserve, the areas most important to wildlife must be kept off limits to development. Currently, there is no real lasting protection for these lands and waters.
The special areas deserving permanent protections include:
- Colville River: Flowing through the Brooks Range, the river is a major nesting site for birds of prey, like the peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon, and golden eagle, as well as home for over 20 fish species, 70 bird species, and even spotted seals at the river delta.
Kasegaluk Lagoon: Spanning 125 miles on the Chukchi Sea, the lagoon is critical for calving and molting beluga whales and home to walrus, seals, polar bears, and many bird species.
Utukok Uplands: Extremely important for subsistence users, the Uplands are the main calving grounds for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd-Alask's largest herd with 400,000 animals. The Uplands are also home to grizzly bears, wolverines, moose, wolves, and raptors.
Teshekpuk Lake: Known as a Bird Area of Global Significance, the lake is home to large numbers of shore and water birds, including the Pacific black brant and greater white-fronted goose. This is the largest geese molting area in the Arctic, and is also home to caribou, grizzly and polar bears, wolves, and more.
Dease Inlet-Meade River: This area includes thousands of small lakes important to waterfowl, shorebirds-yellow-billed and red-throated loons, brant, king eider-sea ducks, spotted seals, polar bears and caribou.
Southern Ikpikpuk River: This tributary hosts high concentrations of raptors like nesting peregrine falcons and rough-legged hawks, as well as shorebirds like Arctic tern, long-tailed duck, and bar-tailed godwit.
Peard Bay: This special place provides haul-out areas for ringed and bearded seals-polar bears' favorite food. It is a Continentally-Significant Important Bird Area with habitat for nesting loons, waterfowl and shorebirds, including the highest density of nesting spectacled eiders in Alaska.
DeLong Mountains and Arctic Foothills: At the crest of the Brooks Range, this area is essential for migrating caribou, is home to grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, and is an important corridor across the Arctic.
A balanced approach to management of the Reserve would provide meaningful, lasting protection for key natural areas, wildlife habitat, and subsistence uses. Though the Reserve contains the country's largest coal deposit, it also holds our nation's most treasured natural resources -- millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands with critical habitat for millions of migratory birds, as well as grizzly bears, caribou, threatened polar bears, walrus, wolves, endangered beluga whales, and other wildlife. Currently, there is no permanent protections for these lands and waters.
We must ensure that responsible decisions are made when it comes to development. The Western Arctic is home to irreplaceable wild places and wildlife, and is already feeling the impact from climate change. Given these threats, we must ensure that the most special places for wilderness and wildlife are granted the strongest possible protections.