Ecological Regions with a focus on the Coastal Plain and Foothills

Ecoregions of northern Alaska

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which exists entirely north of the Arctic Circle, is an intact continuum of six different ecological zones spanning some 200 miles north to south. Such a diverse spectrum of habitats and associated fish and wildlife populations within a single conservation area is unparalleled in the circumpolar north.

Much of the Refuge north of the mountains incorporates the 1.5 million acre coastal plain (referred to as the 1002 Area), which comprises only 3.2% of the Arctic Coastal Plain and 4.6% of the Arctic Foothills ecological zones found in Alaska. The physical and biological components of this area are unique compared to the rest of northern Alaska.

The terrain of the 1002 area includes mostly foothills and low relief coastal plain, with few lakes and ponds; areas to the west have extensive wetlands, including large lakes. The distance from the mountains to the coast in the Refuge also is several times smaller than it is farther west. This relative compactness of habitats provides for a greater degree of ecological diversity than any other similar sized area of Alaska's north slope.

Those who campaigned to establish the Arctic Refuge recognized its wild qualities and the significance of these spatial relationships. Here lies an unusually diverse assemblage of large animals and smaller, less-appreciated life forms, tied to their physical environments and to each other by natural, undisturbed ecological and evolutionary processes.

This information and the map of the ecological regions of Alaska is adapted from:

Gallant, A. L., E. F. Binnian, J. M. Omernik, and M. B. Shasby. 1995. Ecoregions of Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1567. U.S. Gov. Printing Office, Washington, D.C.