There are several different federal land managers across Alaska’s arctic region, in addition to the State of Alaska and various Alaska Native regional corporations and villages. These include the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Last summer, just about this time, I had the good fortune to do a basecamp trip with some close friends on the shore of Agiak Lake, near the northern continental divide of North America, in the heart of the Gates of the Arctic National Park. The two photos below are from that trip: glorious autumn colors in the tundra (complete with grizzly bear checking us out), followed by a not unexpected snowstorm.
The Gates of the Arctic is our second largest national park, larger than Denali (3d) and smaller than Wrangell-St. Elias (1st). A large part of the park is designated as a wilderness area, which – together with the adjoining Noatak Wilderness Area -- forms the largest contiguous wilderness in the United States.
Like other national parks, Gates of the Arctic is managed by the National Park Service. Gates is the only national park that lies entirely north of the Arctic Circle. The Prudhoe Bay oil fields lie just to the north of it.
To the east of the Gates and Prudhoe Bay is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest such refuge in the United States. The President and the Secretary of the Interior have recently proposed that additional portions of the Refuge, including its ecologically and culturally sensitive coast al plain, be designated as wilderness. For purposes of this post, a key point is that the Refuge is managed by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service.
As readers of this blog and related social media will appreciate, I have visited the Refuge several times, including earlier this summer on the Hulahula River trip I have previously reported.
To the west, the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA) is a vast area of land, owned by the United States federal government, which includes Teshekpuk Lake, a critical wetland and breeding ground for numerous bird species from around the globe. The NPRA is not designated as wilderness, but it is as yet undeveloped and constitutes the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States. Like many other public lands, the NPRA is managed by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The BLM manages almost 250 million acres, or about one-eighth of all the lands that we collectively own as citizens of the United States. About 30 million acres of BLM lands have been designated for management as National Conservation Lands. Under federal legislation, in managing the NPRA, the BLM is required to balance the exploration and development of oil & gas resources with the protection of wildlife, habitat, and the subsistence values of rural residents and Alaska Natives.
The Conservation Lands Foundation is a not-for-profit entity established for the purpose of protecting, restoring and expanding the BLM’s system of National Conservation Lands. So it is natural that the Conservation Lands Foundation would take an active interest in the BLM’s management of the NPRA.
As it happens, I have never personally visited the NPRA, but that is about to change. Late next week, I will be joining a group from the Conservation Lands Foundation for about eight days, rafting and hiking along the Etivluk River. Stay tuned for further observations when we return.