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Izembek National Wildlife Refuge  

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

At 417,533 acres Izembek National Wildlife Refuge at the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula is the smallest Alaskan refuge in Alaska. The heart of the refuge, the reason it was created in 1960, is Izembek Lagoon, 150 square miles of brackish water containing some of the largest eelgrass beds in the world. Almost the entire Pacific black brant population of 135,000 birds arrives to feed on the large eelgrass beds in Izembek Lagoon during the annual 3,000-mile migration to or from wintering grounds in Mexico.

Beyond the lagoon, most of the refuge is low brush tundra, accented with tiny wildflowers and dotted with tangled alder thickets. But Izembek is still diverse wilderness, a panorama of natural beauty characterized by hundreds of freshwater lakes, meandering streams, u-shaped valleys, ancient glaciers, hot springs and smoking volcanoes. The refuge protects not only the brant but a wide variety of other wildlife and fish as well, including all five species of Pacific salmon; furbearers such as wolf, fox and wolverine; large mammals such as caribou, moose and brown bears; shorebirds, seabirds and an incredible array of waterfowl.

More than 140 species of birds from all over the Arctic funnel through Izembek Refuge each fall on their way to winter destinations throughout the world. Dozens of other species remain within the North American Pacific Flyway, including mallards, rock sandpipers and dunlins. Nesting in wetlands and wintering near hot springs, many tundra swans remain at Izembek throughout the year. Steller's eiders and emperor geese also stay throughout the winter.

Brown bears make their summer home along salmon-rich streams throughout the refuge. The steep slopes of the Joshua Green River Valley provide world-renowned brown bear habitat. When the salmon are running, brown-bear densities in the refuge can be among Alaska's highest: as many as six bears per mile along some streams. Caribou migrate to the refuge each fall and early winter from calving grounds to the north. Wolves follow the caribou. Seals, sea lions and sea otters inhabit nearby coastal waters and lagoons. Killer, grey and minke whales can be seen as they migrate along the shoreline. Salmon begin arriving in mid-summer.

Birding, wildlife observation and photography are the main activities for visitors to Izembek along with hunting and fishing to a lesser extent. There are also opportunities for spectacular backpacking and remote camping but visitors need to keep in mind the area's rapidly changing weather conditions. Even during the summer months, high winds and heavy rainstorms are common.

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