In the southwest corner of the Reserve, in the shadow of the Brooks Range, lays a lush grassland ecosystem — calving grounds and insect relief for the Western Arctic caribou herd. Here you’ll also find the highest concentration of grizzly bears in the Arctic, as well as large populations of moose, wolves and wolverines. Many Pacific golden plovers who nest in this area migrate to Hawaii, but their migration can extend all the way to New Zealand.

More than forty villages across the northwest Arctic and Norton Sound region rely on the Western Arctic caribou herd as a subsistence resource. The area is home to the Utukok River, a 225-mile long waterway that empties into Kasegaluk Lagoon and the Chukchi Sea. The Utukok River Uplands Special Area is the largest of the five special areas at approximately four million acres, or about 22% of the Reserve.


The uplands cover more than 4 million acres, or about one-fifth of the entire Reserve. The Utukok River flows for 225 miles, eventually emptying into the Arctic Ocean.


For birds including the peregrine falcon and golden plover, as well as the Western Arctic caribou herd.


Caribou, moose, wolverines, raptors, migratory birds and the largest concentration of brown bears in Arctic Alaska.


“Utukok” means “old” or “ancient” in Iñupiaq.


40+ villages continue to use the river, lands and caribou as part of a traditional lifestyle.




The Utukok River was a historic travel corridor for Iñupiat hunters, and today more than 40 villages continue to utilize the river and its surrounding lands as part of a traditional lifestyle. The Utukok River flows through the Special Area all the way to the Chukchi Sea, and is home to pink and chum salmon. The western piece of the Colville River is home to Arctic cisco and other important fish species. Villages that depend on the Western Arctic caribou herd include Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, Utqiaġvik, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut and Anaktuvuk Pass in the North Slope Borough; and Ambler, Kotzebue, Noatak and Selawik in the Northwest Arctic Borough.


Western Arctic caribou herd: Each June, the Western Arctic caribou herd migrates north to its calving grounds in the Utukok River Uplands;

Length: Males, 64-81 inches long/Females, 64-81 inches long;

Weight: Males 350-400 lbs/Females 180-260 lbs;

Number of Animals: Approx. 230,000

Fun Fact: The Western Arctic caribou herd ranges across 140,000 square miles in northwest Alaska; it is the state’s largest caribou herd and one of the largest in the world.


Protecting the Utukok River Uplands is critical to preserving this Special Area’s wildlife and subsistence values; however, potential development could bring great harm to key resources in the Utukok, which provides migration routes and birthing grounds for the Western Arctic caribou herd as well as important habitat for bears, wolverines and other wildlife.

Climate change is also having a profound effect on the region — average temperatures are increasing in both summer and winter, which affects everything from the stability of permafrost to the growing seasons for and availability of various vegetation for wildlife.