Birds to Congress: Protect the Heart of the Arctic Refuge

Record number of Senators support bill to permanently protect the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness.


APRIL 4, 2017


Elisabeth Gustafson, Audubon Alaska,, (907) 276-7034

Nick Gonzalez, National Audubon Society,, (212) 979-3068

WASHINGTON, DC —Today, Congress introduced twin bills in the House and Senate to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness. The Arctic Refuge provides summer nesting grounds for millions of migratory birds that fly north through all fifty states in order to reach this lush ecosystem. The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is the biological heart of the refuge and has long had the threat of oil and gas development hanging over it.

“Alaska’s coastal plain is one of North America’s most prolific bird nurseries. If the Arctic Refuge is ever developed, America loses one of its last untouched, wild places and millions of baby birds could lose their homes,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), Audubon’s president and CEO.

“The breeding and nesting grounds for birds that later fly to all 50 states and all seven continents make this a truly special place where no drill rig or pipeline should ever be.

“Today, in the face of a new campaign to open the wildlife refuge to drilling, a record number of Senators and a bipartisan group of Representatives introduced legislation to permanently protect this unique and rare landscape once and for all. Americans strongly support protecting this place and our natural heritage for our kids and grandkids, so the only question for the rest of Congress is, ‘Are you listening?’”

Given its biological and aesthetic value, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has enjoyed bipartisan support from Congress for decades. Yet the coastal plain remains without permanent federal protection as wilderness, even though it is has the highest concentration of biological diversity in the Refuge. While currently managed as wilderness, formal designation requires an act of Congress.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an exceptional example of a complete, intact, Arctic ecosystem on a vast scale, and the coastal plain is essential to the integrity of this wild and productive place,” said Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska, the state office of the National Audubon Society.

“In addition to providing critical breeding habitat for nearly 200 species of migratory birds, the coastal plain supports the 197,000-animal Porcupine Caribou Herd, and a full complement of large predators, such as wolves, grizzly bears, and polar bears. It’s time for Congress to protect this life-sustaining landscape once and for all.”

Here are a few examples of the birds that migrate from all across the United States to the Arctic Refuge:

  • Atlantic Flyway: Tundra Swans gather in large flocks along the East Coast, migrating across Canada to reach the tundra ponds of their Arctic Refuge nesting grounds.
  • Mississippi Flyway: Smith’s Longspurs winter in the Great Plains of the Mississippi Flyway then head to the edge of the tundra in the refuge.
  • Central Flyway: American Golden-Plovers have the longest migration of the bunch, spending winters in South America. They move up through the Central Flyway on their way to the refuge.
  • Pacific Flyway: Pacific Brant nibble on marine eelgrass beds all winter from Baja to Southcentral Alaska before heading north.
  • All flyways: Northern Pintails from all four flyways converge on the Arctic Refuge in spring.

Audubon has long advocated for permanent protection for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the understanding that this landscape provides incredibly vital habitat for birds and other wildlife, and is calling on its members to contact their members of Congress to support wilderness designation.


Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. Audubon Alaska is a state office of the National Audubon Society.

Now in its second century, the National Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation. 

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