Alaska’s Western Arctic

 

Our Work in Alaska: Protecting the Western Arctic

At almost 23 million acres Alaska’s Western Arctic, also known as the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, is our country’s largest contiguous piece of public land. Roughly the size of Indiana–or ten times the size of Yellowstone National Park–the Western Arctic is a vast and fragile landscape. Oil and gas drilling development is already encroaching into some of the most important parts of this national treasure, and the only checks on profit-driven exploration companies come from people like you through organizations like ours–reminding the oil giants and land managers that they must follow the laws that protect wildlife and Native cultures dependent on these irreplaceable areas. From towering peaks to expansive coastal wetlands, the Western Arctic is the country’s most biologically and culturally significant piece of public land that cannot claim one acre of permanent protection. The Conservation Lands Foundation and our partners have been working to see that this irreplaceable landscape–and the people and wildlife who have lived there in balance for millennia–receive protections critical to their survival.

 

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People

Though its size is impressive, its what’s within the Western Arctic that makes it so special. The Alaska Native communities in the Western Arctic have maintained a subsistence lifestyle for thousands of years based on the region’s abundant natural resources. The native Inupiat communities of the Arctic Slope have relied on the region’s wildlife for food, culture and spiritual rejuvenation. Central to these subsistence needs are the Western Arctic’s two caribou herds. While oil and gas activities have a place in the Western Arctic, the areas of highest conservation value must be kept off-limits to development to protect native people and their subsistence culture.

 

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Wildlife

The Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herds migrate, seek relief from insects and depend on calving grounds like the Utukok Uplands. At over 350,000 in number, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd is one of the three largest in North America. The Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd is unique in that in some years roughly half of the herd winters north of the Brooks Range, weathering the brutally cold Arctic winters.

Other wildlife also make the Western Arctic home, including wolves, arctic fox, wolverines, musk oxen, beluga whales, spotted seals and one of the larger densities of grizzly bears in North America. Millions of migratory birds and waterfowl spend time here. The impressive flocks–numbering in the hundreds of thousands in some cases–breed, molt and build their strength in the Western Arctic before making their way south for the winter. These brave travelers utilize all four North American flyways and several international flyways and make their way as far as the southern tip of Chile and the islands of the South Pacific, despite (in many cases) starting their life in the Western Arctic’s complex of coastal wetlands, like the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.

Progress

In early 2013, the Obama Administration finalized the Final Integrated Activity Plan for the Western Arctic. This first-ever comprehensive management plan was announced after an almost three-year process. The result is a plan the Conservation Lands Foundation, Alaska Natives, sportsmen, biologists and over 400,000 Americans believe is a balanced approach toward managing this globally significant landscape. Half of the Western Arctic will be available for oil and gas drilling, while the other half will be protected in five “Special Areas” totaling over 11 million acres.

Protections for the Teshekpuk Lake, Peard Bay, Utukok Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Colville River Special Areas ensure that the most critical areas within the Western Arctic will be protected from oil and gas drilling and non-subsistence infrastructure. Moving forward, the Conservation Lands Foundation will continue to work with the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska’s native communities, sportsmen and other conservation groups to ensure the Western Arctic’s wildlife and subsistence values are protected.

To learn more, contact Danielle Murray, Senior Director: danielle@conservationlands.org

 

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