Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kristine Sowl


The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is 310,000 acres of land on the Alaska Peninsula located between the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Despite its remote location and distinction as the state’s smallest national wildlife refuge, Izembek is home to one of the most ecologically unique of Alaska's refuges that protects a wide variety of fish and wildlife species and their habitats.




The federally designated Izembek Wilderness makes up nearly the entirety of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.


The entire world population of emperor geese (approx. 70,000) migrates through Izembek Refuge each spring and fall.


The Southern Alaska Peninsula caribou herd moves from its calving grounds north of the refuge to Izembek in late fall to spend the winter.


During peak salmon runs, as many as nine bears per mile have been observed along Izembek’s salmon-rich streams.


More than 200 species of wildlife and nine species of fish can be found in Izembek Refuge.


Commercial and private interests have for decades advocated for a road through the heart of Izembek Wilderness in order to build a road connecting the town of King Cove with the village of Cold Bay.

Under the Obama administration, following three years of study at a cost of $3 million, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the proposed road through Izembek Refuge was unnecessary, not in the public’s best interests, and harmful to the refuge lands and wildlife. The agency made a scientifically and legally sound assessment that a road through federally designated wilderness within Izembek Refuge would irreparably harm wetlands of international importance to migratory waterfowl and other important wildlife species and have major negative effects on certain bird species and brown bears.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior made repeated attempts to push through a land swap intended to trade Izembek Wilderness lands to make way for that road. A deal for a land exchange was made in 2018 by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, only to be thrown out in court. A similar deal struck in 2019 by then Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was also tossed by the district court.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice under President Biden filed a legal brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals defending the 2019 land exchange between the Interior Department and King Cove’s Alaska Native village corporation. The Ninth Circuit overturned the district court and reinstated the exchange, and the League and our allies have filed for an en banc hearing.


Nearly all Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is designated as federal Wilderness. Tundra swans live here year-round. Gray, Minke and killer whales migrate along the coast by the thousands. Hundreds of thousands of salmon begin and end their life cycles on the refuge. The brown bear habitat is unparalleled, and caribou — of the Southern Alaska Peninsula caribou herd — wander through to and from their calving grounds.

At the heart of the Wilderness is the 150-square mile Izembek Lagoon, where shallow, brackish water covers one of the world's largest beds of eelgrass, creating a rich feeding and resting area for virtually the entire world population of Pacific black brant, Taverner's Canada goose and emperor goose each fall. Approximately 23,000 threatened Steller's eiders molt, rest and feed at Izembek each autumn. The refuge is also home to land mammals including wolf, fox, wolverine, caribou, moose and brown bears.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kristine Sowl



Length: 23.3 to 24.5 inches (males); 22.2 to 23 inches (females)

Weight: 41.1 to 61.3 ounces (males); 36.2 to 58.1 ounces (females)

Wingspan: 41.3 to 42.5 inches

Return to the blue lagoon: The entire Pacific population of black brant, approximately 150,000 birds, can be seen in the Izembek Lagoon area every fall. The brant begin to converge on the area in late August, with numbers peaking in early October. They spend up to eight weeks feasting on eelgrass and preparing for the arduous non-stop migration to their wintering areas in Mexico. Some of the brant depart abruptly in late October or early November, leaving up to 50,000 to brave the stormy winters of the southern Alaska Peninsula.

Arctic connection: Black brant breed in the Arctic on marshlands, islands and tundra. They stop over in similar habitats to molt before migrating south. They then spend their winters on lagoons, estuaries, mudflats and saltmarshes near sand spits, barrier beaches, and ocean shores. Fun fact: Brant are vegetarian in diet, grazing on plants including hairgrass, alkaligrass, marestail, dupontia, saxifrage, sedge, pondweed and arrowgrass, along with various mosses, eelgrass and large green algae.

Photo Credit: U.S. FIsh and Wildlife Service, Nathan Graff