Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A polar bear wanders the frozen Arctic landscape

Vast, beautiful and remote, this refuge is often called America's last great wilderness

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is one of Alaska’s crowned jewels in the Far North region, and encompasses 19.6 million-acres in Alaska's northern corner. The refuge straddles the eastern Brooks Range from the treeless Arctic Coast to the taiga of the Porcupine River Valley.

History

The movement to protect the area began in the 1950s out of concerned for the loss of wild places to development and the destructive potential of the atomic bomb that was displayed during World War II. Led by Olaus and Margaret Murie, conservationists launched a seven-year, hard-fought campaign to establish the Nation's first ecosystem-scale conservation area. In 1960, the Eisenhower administration established the 8.9 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Range and in 1980 it was expanded 18 million acres and renamed. Today ANWR spans 19.6 million acres, equal to the size of South Carolina.

Ecosystem

The majestic Brooks Range, with peaks and glaciers to 9,000 feet, dominates the refuge. These rugged mountains extend east to west in a band 75 miles wide, rising abruptly from a flat, tundra-covered plain. Numerous braided rivers and streams cut through this treeless expanse. South of the continental divide, rivers wind serpentine courses through broad, spruce-covered valleys dotted with lakes and sloughs.

The climate in the refuge is almost as diverse as the wildlife. Snow usually blankets the ground from September through May, but freezing temperatures can occur any month, especially north of the mountains. Summers last from June through August. Strong winds, cool temperatures, clouds and fog are typical near the coast. Blue skies, variable winds and moderate temperatures are more common inland. Areas south of the mountains have more rainfall, more extreme temperatures and lighter winds.

Wildlife

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the most diverse and spectacular wildlife in the circumpolar north. The refuge's rich pageant of wildlife includes 36 fish species, 36 land mammals, nine marine mammals, and more than 160 migratory and resident bird species that come from four continents to breed, rest or feed from April to July.

The refuge is also the most important polar bear denning area in the country and a critical calving area for the Porcupine caribou herd, the second largest at 130,000 animals. Dall sheep roam the mountains, moose and musk oxen graze the plains, and grizzly and black bear forage for food along streams, the rivers support grayling and char.

Activities

The Arctic Refuge offers a variety of wilderness opportunities and horizons to be explored. There are no roads, established trails or facilities within the refuge; preparation and self-reliance are essential due to its remote nature and extreme conditions. Most visitors bring their own food and gear, and access the Refuge by air taxi or personal airplane. Although there is no cell phone coverage, satellite phones do work in many areas. Visitors can enjoy hiking, hunting, camping, rock-climbing and river floating. Wildlife viewing, birding, berry picking and photography are also popular activities.

Learn More About Alaska's Far North