USFWS
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Alaska Region   

Icon of Blue Goose Compass. 
      Click compass to view Refuge map.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who manages the Arctic Refuge, and what is the Refuge for?

The Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency within the Department of the Interior. The original "Arctic National Wildlife Range" was created in 1960 by Public Land Order 2214 "For the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values." Then in 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the area, designated much of the original Range as Wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act (the part left out was the 1002 Area), renamed the whole area the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and created four additional purposes. The ANILCA purposes are: (a) to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity with special emphasis on the Porcupine caribou herd (including participation in coordinated ecological studies and management of this herd and the Western Arctic caribou herd), polar bears, grizzly bears, muskox, Dall sheep, wolves, wolverines, snow geese, peregrine falcons and other migratory birds and Arctic char (those residing in Alaska's North Slope rivers and lagoons are now classified as Dolly Varden) and grayling; (b) to fulfill the international fish and wildlife treaty obligations of the United States; (c) to provide the opportunity for continued subsistence uses by local residents; and (d) to ensure water quality and necessary water quantity within the refuge.

What threatened, endangered and invasive species are in the Arctic Refuge?

In past years we were able to say, "One of the factors that makes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a very special place is that, as far as we know, there are no species that should be here but are not, and no species that should not be here, but are. In other words, no native species of plant or animal is missing, and no outside species has invaded the Refuge. The only endangered species that may reach the Refuge is the Spectacled Eider. These birds, however, generally nest further west, so even if they were not reduced in number it is very rare for one to appear on the Refuge."

But recent changes to world climate are causing problems for wildlife and plants around the globe, and the statement above is no longer true. As arctic sea ice patterns change, retreating to greater distances from shore for prolonged periods of time, polar bears that swim between the ice and the coast may use more energy than previously, and may be forced to spend a longer time ashore where food resources are limited. In recognition of these and other problems, polar bears have recently been listed as "Threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. (Learn more)

Where can I find information about visiting the Arctic Refuge?

Visitor information is available on our web site by clicking the "Plan Your Visit" button on the left of each page.

How many people visit the Refuge each year?

Most visitors to the Arctic Refuge plan their trips for the short summer season of June, July and August. Visitor numbers have remained relatively stable over the past 20 years, ranging between approximately 1,200 and 1,500 each year. In 2008, 87 commercially guided hunters, 259 commercially transported but unguided hunters, 446 commercially guided recreational visitors, and 233 commercially transported but unguided recreational visitors spent time in the Refuge, for a total of 1013 commercially-supported visitors. Each commercially guided or transported visitor spends, on average, between 7 and 12 days in the Refuge, which corresponds to approximately 10,130 visitor use days per year (10 days per visit, times 1,013 visitors). Because of the vast size of the Refuge and the unlimited number of entry points, it is difficult to estimate the number of independent visitors who come into the Refuge using their own planes, boats, or on foot, but we believe this ranges from approximately 200 to 500 individuals each year.

Public use report (1.5 meg pdf file)

How can I get to the Arctic Refuge?

Most of the Refuge is accessible only by aircraft. From Fairbanks, most visitors take a commercial flight to Fort Yukon, Deadhorse, Arctic Village or Kaktovik, and charter a smaller bush plane from there.

Can I drive within the Refuge?

No. An undisturbed wilderness, the Refuge remains roadless. Limited access is provided by the Dalton Highway (a gravel road) which almost touches the western tip of the Refuge.

Are there lodgings in the Refuge?

Lodging is available at Kaktovik, at the northern edge of the Refuge. There are no established campgrounds within the Refuge. Camp grounds are available outside the Refuge at locations along the Dalton Highway.

When is the best time to see large groups of caribou?

There are two herds of caribou that use the Arctic Refuge. In late May, females of the Porcupine Caribou herd usually begin arriving at their calving grounds on the coastal plain of the Refuge. As the weather becomes hotter, the rest of the herd arrives, forming large aggregations of caribou. By July, the caribou begin the return journey to their wintering grounds in Canada and the southern parts of the Refuge. In some years, caribou of the Central Arctic Herd also spend the summer on the Refuge coastal plain. Their fall migration usually begins in late summer. The timing and routes the two herds choose are unpredictable, making it a challenge for visitors to plan trips to see the migrations.

Why might oil development occur on the Refuge?

In 1978 and 1979, as the U.S. House and Senate were debating the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the House passed legislation to designate the north part of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness (along with other lands farther south in the Refuge), but the Senate wanted to keep the options open for oil development on the north coast of the Refuge. When ANILCA became law in 1980, most of the Refuge coastal plain was not designated wilderness. Instead, it was decided that only Congress could decide whether to allow oil exploration and drilling in the area. Section 1003 of ANILCA reads "production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited and no leasing or other development leading to production of oil and gas from the [Refuge] shall be undertaken until authorized by an act of Congress." Because of this 1980 law, the decision about development or protection of this northern part of the Arctic Refuge rests in the hands of the US Congress.

What is the Arctic Refuge staff opinion of oil development in the Refuge?

The Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for all Americans. As employees of the Service, we do not personally promote or oppose legislation relating to Congressional Actions. As professional biologists, we present scientific information about Refuge wildlife and habitats.

Would development only happen in 2,000 acres?

One topic of confusion is the idea of "2,000 acres" of development. There isn't any "2,000" acre location identified for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. There is presently no bill signed into law that opens the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas exploration or development, so there is no way to predict what an eventual bill may include as limitations. Although bills introduced in Congress to open the Refuge to development frequently contain a "2,000 acre limitation" clause, this clause can be confusing because the 2,000 acre limitations so far proposed only include the spots where oil production facilities would actually touch the ground, these acres do not need to be next to each other, and these acres do not include gravel mines, roads or pipelines (except the posts holding the pipes in the air). Development in the 1002 Area could require a large number of small production sites spread across the Refuge landscape, connected by an infrastructure of roads, pipelines, power plants, processing facilities, loading docks, dormitories, airstrips, gravel pads, utility lines and landfills. Therefore, even if a 2,000 footprint limit were written into a bill, it could be possible for facilities and their accompanying roads and pipelines to spread in a network throughout the entire 1.5 million acres of the 1002 Area.


April 27, 2010