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Refuge Features

caribou bull bar


  • The Arctic Refuge was established in 1960 as a promise to the American people to preserve “wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.”
  • It is the Nation’s largest and most northern National Wildlife Refuge, containing a range of arctic and subarctic habitats.
  • Vast and remote, this 19.3 million acre Refuge is the size of South Carolina, and contains 8 million acres of designated Wilderness.
  • North to south the Refuge extends 200 miles–from the Arctic coast, across the tundra plain, over the glacier-capped peaks of the Brooks Range, and into the spruce and birch boreal forests of the Yukon River basin.
  • The Refuge is a place of wildness, where timeless ecological and evolutionary processes continue in their natural ebb and flow.
  • It is a laboratory where scientists seek to understand the natural dynamics of an undisturbed landscape.
  • The Refuge shares common borders with Ivvavik and Vuntut National Parks in Canada.
  • This has been a homeland for thousands of years–to the Inupiat of the north coast and the Gwich-in of interior Alaska and northwest Canada, Kaktovik, an Inupiat Eskimo village, and Arctic Village, a Gwich'in Indian community, are located on its north and south boundaries.
  • There is continuous light from late April to mid-August, then the sun stays below the horizon from mid-November to mid-January.
  • A biologically diverse conservation unit in the circumpolar north, the Refuge supports 45 species of land and marine mammals, 36 species of fish, and more than more than 200 species of birds from six continents.
  • Arctic Refuge has no known introduced species.
  • The 160,000 strong Porcupine Caribou herd migrates throughout the Refuge and northwestern Canada, and regularly comes to the coastal plain to give birth and nurture their young. The Central Arctic Caribou herd also uses the Refuge.
  • The Refuge is home to muskoxen and thousands of Dall sheep.
  • Its coast is a major migration route for several waterfowl species.
  • The Nation's northernmost breeding population of golden eagles occurs in the Refuge's mountains.
  • All three species of North American bear (black, grizzly, and polar) den within the Refuge.
  • The majestic Brooks Range rises from the Refuge's coastal plain only 10-40 miles from the Beaufort Sea.
  • Arctic Refuge includes the four highest peaks and most of the glaciers in the Brooks Range.
  • There are more than 160 rivers and streams flowing through the Refuge. Three are designated as Wild Rivers (Sheenjek, Ivishak, and Wind).
  • Marine waters within the Refuge's northern boundary are designated as a National Marine Protected Area. The Refuge also has two designated Research Natural Areas.
  • North America's two largest and most northerly alpine lakes (Peters and Schrader) are located within the Refuge.
  • The Refuge has numerous prominent geological formations, including a range of permafrost and glacial features. It also contains several warm springs, which support plant species unique to the area.
  • Permafrost underlies most of the Refuge, helping to keep areas of the landscape wet and productive in summer.
  • Huge fields of overflow ice ("aufeis") form along many of its rivers every winter.
  • The Refuge is as primitive and undisturbed as any conservation area in the Nation. It offers outstanding scenery and recreation, where visitors can experience solitude, self-reliance, exploration, adventure, and challenge.
  • Open to the public year-round, Arctic Refuge has no roads, developments, or trails. Visitors must fly, boat or walk to get here. 


Page Photo Credits — All photos courtesy of USFWS unless otherwise noted.
Last Updated: Aug 21, 2012
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