Photo credit: Patrick J. Endres/


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, located in the northeast corner of Alaska, is one of the finest examples of wilderness remaining anywhere in the world. It is a perfect example of intact, naturally functioning Arctic and subarctic ecosystems. In fact, such a broad spectrum of diverse habitats occurring within a single protected unit is unparalleled in North America.




Species including caribou, polar bears, waterbirds, arctic foxes, black and brown bears, Dall sheep, moose and muskoxen all rely on this diverse habitat.


The coastal plain serves as birthing grounds for the Porcupine caribou in summer and the most important land denning area for America's threatened polar bears in winter.


Approximately 200 species of birds call the Arctic Refuge home at least part of the year, including snowy owls, Arctic terns and golden eagles.


The Arctic Refuge covers 19.6 million acres in northeast Alaska, and includes the Mollie Beattie Wilderness, the second largest wilderness area in the U.S. at 8 million acres.


The Inupiaq village Kaktovik is located on the Arctic Ocean coast while the Gwich’in people live in several villages to the south along the border of the Arctic Refuge.


Enjoy stunning footage from National Geographic photographer Florian Schulz, as featured in the PBS “Nature” series, and view this incredible landscape on the big screen in the new film “The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness” following the elusive 200,000 strong Porcupine caribou herd as it migrates to the Arctic Coastal Plain, one of the longest animal migrations on earth.


In 2019, Alaska Wilderness League was approached by the folks at Threshold, a podcast focused on providing context and perspective on our planet, our environment and our climate. In the works was a series on the Arctic Refuge, and we were happy to assist in any way possible. Fast forward, and Threshold’s third season, focused on the Arctic Refuge, was the winner of a Peabody Award and filed an additional pod once the Trump administration released its final leasing decision. We highly recommend checking it out — you can listen to the full season here.



Adam Kolton, former executive director of Alaska Wilderness League who sadly passed away in 2021, joined Hannah Blake and others at the conclusion of the Trump presidency to discuss the bounty of beauty and life that is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He explained why this land is so vital for the culture and wellbeing of the Gwich'in people, whose villages reside along the migratory route of the Porcupine caribou herd — a herd that returns each year to the Arctic Refuge coastal plain to birth new calves.




The Gwich’in people have lived in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge region spanning from Alaska to Canada for hundreds of generations. The word “Gwich’in” means “people of the land,” and their lives and culture have become inseparable from the fate of the Porcupine caribou herd. The Gwich’in people rely on caribou as a chief food source as well as for clothing, tools and ornaments, and as a central fixture of their culture.

In Alaska, the Gwich’in reside in nine communities: Arctic Village, Beaver, Birch Creek, Canyon Village, Chalkyitsik, Circle, Eagle Village, Fort Yukon and Venetie. For thousands of years, the Gwich’in people have regarded the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as “iizhik gwats’an gwandaii goodlit” or “the sacred place where life begins,” because it has been the most frequently used birthing and nursery grounds for the Porcupine caribou.

Photo credit: Evon Peter


The Alaska congressional delegation remains determined to see oil and gas development move forward in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including destructive seismic exploration on the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain. This push is the result of Congress passing a controversial tax bill in 2017 that mandated an oil and gas program for the Arctic Refuge, to include two lease sales to be held by 2024 for the coastal plain, sacred lands of the Gwich’in people and vital habitat for caribou, polar bears and migratory birds.

For more on the fight to protect the Arctic Refuge, visit the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign.

Reasons not to drill in the Arctic Refuge:

Bear Polar Bears

Female polar bears are increasingly building dens on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain to give birth to their young, primarily due to disappearing sea ice. Though polar bears prefer to spend the majority of their time on the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean, that ice is receding due to warming temperatures, making land denning sites in the Arctic Refuge more and more important.

Caribou Caribou

The coastal plain serves as calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, a key subsistence resource critical to the lives and culture of the Gwich'in people.

Migratory Birds Migratory Birds

Approximately 200 species of birds rely on the Arctic Refuge at least part of the year, including snowy owls, Arctic terns and golden eagles.

In addition to threatening wildlife, the Center For American Progress (CAP) has prepared a rundown on the waste of taxpayer money that drilling the Arctic Refuge would be. You can read more here. CAP also found that burning the extracted oil and gas from the Arctic Refuge would mean another 4.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to two-thirds of U.S. annual emissions in 2017.


Average life span: 15 years in the wild

Length: 64-84 inches

Height: 33-59 inches at the shoulder

Weight: 180-400 lbs., up to 700 lbs.

Well adapted: Relatives of reindeer, moose and deer, caribou are well adapted to their northern habitat and cooler climates, with hollow-hair fur that covers almost all of its body providing insulation in winter and flotation for swimming.

Porcupine Caribou Herd: The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is the central calving ground for the internationally-recognized Porcupine caribou herd, relied upon by the Gwich’in people in the U.S. and Canada as a dietary necessity as well as for their cultural traditions. Each year the Porcupine caribou migrate between winter habitat in Canada and Alaska south of the Brooks Range, and summer habitat (calving and post-calving) on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain, the longest land migration route of any land mammal on earth.

Photo Credit: Florian Schulz/