Western Arctic: National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

This area of the Western Arctic provides important habitat for many species of birds and other wildlife.

Tens of thousands of geese rely on Teshekpuk Lake during molting season.

Photo: Gerrit Vyn, Macaulay Library at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

A Good Path for Teshekpuk Lake and America's Arctic

On February 21, 2013 Secretary of Interior Salazar announced the first-ever, area-wide plan for managing the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). This plan makes several Special Areas, including the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (a globally-significant Important Bird Area), off-limits for oil and gas leasing.

Overall, this plan provides a responsible balance that protects about half of the nearly 23-million acre Reserve while still allowing for the vast majority of the area’s oil to be accessed and developed. Audubon Alaska continues to keep watch to see that new development projects follow the guidelines set in this plan.

The designated Special Areas of the NPRA have outstanding wildlife values for a range of species. Photo: Nathan Walker

See a full-size version of the Special Areas map above.

Here are some of the highlights. The plan:

  • Expanded the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area from 1.75 million acres to 3.65 million acres
  • Expanded the Utukok River Uplands Special Area from 3.97 million acres to 7.06 million acres
  • Created the 107,000-acre Peard Bay Special Area
  • Balanced 11.8 million acres available for oil and gas leasing with approximately 11 million acres unavailable for leasing.

Explore the Reserve online:


 In 1976, Congress decided managing these lands should include providing “maximum protection” for special areas with important biological values. While 3 million acres of the Reserve are now leased for oil and gas development, no areas have received permanent protection.  

This map shows the Special Areas and the wildlife values of the Reserve.

Where do Birds from the Reserve Go?
Try out this
 interactive map of birds banded or encountered in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska! Search by species to see where birds fly across the globe. 

Directions: If you see a blank map at first, don't panic!  If you don't see a "Layers" box on the side, go to the View menu>Show/Hide>Navigation Panes>Layers. When the navigation pane opens, click on the plus sign next to the word "Layers" to see the categories of birds (waterfowl, raptors, etc.). Click on the plus sign next to a category to show a list of individual species. Click on a checkbox, and watch as birds spread across the globe! 

Not opening right in your browser? This is a PDF file, so open in Adobe Acrobat or Reader if it doesn't seem to work in your browser (Chrome users, you may have to disable the Chrome PDF reader plugin first). Email if you have questions.

Learn about Audubon Alaska's Conservation Vision for the Western Arctic
Read Policy Director Eric Myers's testimony before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

Read our 2011 Habitat Conservation Strategy Report for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or see the plan laid out on the Habitat Conservation Strategy Map.

In 2002, Audubon Alaska published Alaska’s Western Arctic: A Summary and Synthesis of Resources (Schoen and Senner, eds.), documenting key areas of biological importance. That report and the associated atlas of maps highlighted important habitat areas for waterbirds, two Arctic caribou herds, and other terrestrial and marine wildlife. We integrated the biological information with data on energy resources to identify areas of greatest conservation concern.

With the great increase in spatial data in the last decade and our improved understanding of the biological significance of the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPRA), we updated the atlas of maps with more recent available data, and revised the Habitat Conservation Strategy, focused on the NPRA. The 2011 Habitat Conservation Strategy report and Habitat Conservation Strategy Map identify especially significant wildlife habitat areas which warrant recognition and protection.

Downloadable Resources

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