National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

American Golden-Plover. Photo: Dave Shaw

Any discussion of conserving the Western Arctic must include the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Despite its name, the NPRA is an area of incredible birds and wildlife, in addition to the subsurface petroleum reserves. Click here to view a map of the wildlife values in the NPRA.

Ecologically Important Areas in the NPRA


The Teshekpuk Lake region is a globally significant Important Bird Area for its very high density of many bird species of concern, such as Spectacled, Steller’s, and King eiders; Yel­low-billed and Red-throated loons; and Black Brant. The Teshekpuk Wetlands are the most significant goose molting area in the circumpolar Arctic and are used by up to 30 percent of the Brant population in the Pacific Flyway. The 67,000-animal Teshekpuk Caribou Herd migrates to this area each year to calve their young and forage on abundant sedges. A several-mile-wide coastal band is desig­nated critical habitat for denning polar bears.


The Colville River begins at headwaters in the Brooks Range and ends over 300 miles downstream in a massive alluvial fan and delta plain fingering out toward the Beaufort Sea. The river itself marks an invisible but important boundary: a transition from the developed State of Alaska oil production lands to the federal NPRA which is just beginning to see its first oil production footprint. Known for its high density of rap­tors, the exposed Lower Cretaceous cliff banks of the Colville are tenanted by nesting peregrine falcons, golden eagles, rough-legged hawks, and gyrfalcons. The delta is a globally recognized Important Bird Area where a world-class gathering of shorebirds and waterfowl raise their chicks. Black brant, Steller’s eiders, stilt sandpipers, and over 60 other species breed there. Arctic foxes, musk oxen, wolves, caribou, and the occasional land-locked polar bear wander through the Delta.


These higher elevation foothills and uplands are the head­waters for the Utukok River as well as the Meade and Colville rivers. This excellent wolverine habitat has one of the highest densities of this hard-to-find species anywhere. The area is the primary calving ground for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, Alaska's largest caribou herd, currently numbering about 490,000 animals. This area is also home to unusually large populations of wolves, wolverine, and grizzly bears. The uplands are also inhabited by moose, raptors, and anadromous fish. 


The area around Dease Inlet and Meade River is characterized by thousands of small thaw lakes, which are important habitat for nesting loons, waterfowl, and shorebirds. The inlet itself is home to ice seals, particularly ringed and spotted seals. The barrier islands are important for polar bears and nesting sea­ducks. The area also provides important insect relief habitat for the TCH. This are includes the densest Yellow-billed Loon nesting area in Alaska. Dease Inlet is an Important Bird Area.


Kasegaluk Lagoon is a highly productive shallow coastal lagoon and barrier island system spanning 125 miles of the Chukchi Sea coast. This is a very important area for coastal marine mammals and nesting, staging, and migrating waterbirds. Belugas whales calve and molt in the lagoon, and up to 35,000 walrus haul out near Point Lay.


The Ikpikpuk and its tributary, the Titaluk River, host a high density of nesting Peregrine Falcons. The Ikpikpuk River is an anadromous fish stream and also has been identified as provid­ing significant shorebird habitat. The delta of the Ikpikpuk is an important nesting area for snow geese.


Peard Bay and the surrounding wetland complex is a concentra­tion area for three species of ice seals, polar bears, and various seaducks—particularly eiders. The habitat adjacent to Peard Bay is characterized by thousands of small thaw lakes, which provide important habitat for nesting loons, waterfowl, and shorebirds.


The DeLong Mountains & Arctic Foothills are heavily used by migrating caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines. This area adjoins the Noatak National Preserve and the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and is an important component for main­taining an undeveloped ecological linkage area or corridor from interior Alaska, across the Brooks Range, to the Arctic Coastal Plain.


Offshore of the northwest portions of NPRA are important habitats for beluga whales, walruses, and several species of ice seals. This coastal area also provides habitat and denning sites for polar bears. The polar bear was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. This on-shore habitat could become even more important with rapidly diminishing polar ice conditions. The vast wetlands and lakes on the NPRA coastal plain also provide critical nesting and summering habitat for rare Yellow-billed Loons, threatened Steller's Eiders and Spectacled Eiders, and other water birds.

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