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National Wildlife Refuge

Volcanoes simmer in the distance as brown bears wander the shores of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
1 Izembek Street
P.O. Box 127
Cold Bay, AK   99571
E-mail: izembek@fws.gov
Phone Number: 907-532-2445
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Pavlof volcano during the 1996 eruption
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Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is the smallest ( 315,000 acres) and one of the most ecologically unique of Alaska's refuges. Most of the refuge (300,000 acres)was designated as Wilderness in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. This diverse wilderness protects a wide variety of fish and wildlife species and their habitats. These include five species of salmon; furbearers such as wolf, fox and wolverine; large mammals such as caribou, moose and brown bears; shorebirds; seabirds; and an incredible array of waterfowl, to name just a few.

Salmon returns to natal streams fuel this coastal ecosystem during the summer and fall. This rich fishery provides quality forage for coastal brown bears and other predators. The Southern Alaska Peninsula Caribou Herd (5,400 animals in 2002) also inhabits the Refuge. Several species of marine mammals either inhabit or pass through Refuge coastal waters and lagoons. These include harbor seal, sea otter, walrus, the threatened Stellar's sea lion, and gray, minke, killer and humpback whales.

At the heart of the Refuge is the 150-square mile Izembek Lagoon. The lagoon and its associated state-owned tidal lands have been protected by the State of Alaska since 1960 as the Izembek State Game Refuge. Here, shallow, brackish water covers one of the world's largest beds of eelgrass, creating a rich feeding and resting area for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl. Virtually the entire population of Pacific black brant (150,000 birds on average), Taverner's Canada goose (55,000), and emperor goose (6,000) inhabit the lagoon each fall. Approximately 23,000 threatened Steller's eiders also molt, rest, and feed at Izembek each autumn.

Getting There . . .
Refuge headquarters is located in Cold Bay, Alaska. This is a small, remote, community of fewer than 100 people, and is accessible only by air or water. The Alaska Marine Ferry System serves Cold Bay with one ship per month from April through October. Peninsula Airways (PenAir) serves Cold Bay with daily round-trip flights from Anchorage.

From Cold Bay, there is limited vehicle access to the Refuge via 5 primary gravel or dirt roads, totaling about 40 miles (portions of these require 4-wheel drive). Aircraft or boats are required for access elsewhere within the refuge. PenAir will fly visitors to remote villages. Off-airport air taxi operators and boat charters are limited. Contact the Refuge for the latest information.

The refuge administrative office is located approximately one-half mile northeast of the Cold Bay airport terminal. Modest rental vehicles are available from a local entrepreneur. A small grocery store, motel, lodge and a couple B&B's are open year round.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge lies between the highly productive waters of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Within the heart of the Refuge is Izembek Lagoon, a 30-mile long and 5-mile wide coastal ecosystem that contains one of the world's largest eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds. More than 200 species of wildlife and nine species of fish can be found on the Refuge. Millions of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds find food and shelter in the coastal lagoons and freshwater wetlands on their way to and from their subarctic and arctic breeding grounds. This extraordinary abundance and diversity of waterfowl has attracted international attention. In 1986, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Izembek State Game Refuge, which encompasses the submerged land of Izembek Lagoon, was the first wetland area in the United States to be recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the RAMSAR Convention. In 2001, Izembek Refuge was also designated as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy.

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Lands within the Izembek Refuge were near the southern end of the Bering land bridge and probably played an important role in the migration of Asiatic peoples to North America. The presence of numerous kitchen middens suggests that this area was at one time inhabited by a relatively large population (14,000 individuals some 9,000 years ago) of native people. Archeological investigations continue to add to our knowledge of the daily lives of the early inhabitants.

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Management Activities
The Izembek Refuge staff is responsible for administering four separate refuge units encompassing 2.9 million acres: Izembek Refuge; the Pavlof and North Creek units of Alaska Peninsula Refuge; and Unimak Island of Alaska Maritime Refuge. The refuges were established for a variety of purposes, including to conserve naturally diverse fish and wildlife populations and habitats, and to provide continued opportunity for subsistence uses by local residents. Izembek Refuge protects the watershed of Izembek Lagoon, which was one of the first U.S. sites to be named a Wetland of International Importance (1986). Izembek Lagoon contains North America's largest eelgrass bed and is vitally important to a wide variety of wildlife species, including migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and both aquatic and terrestrial mammals.

Refuge staff implement many monitoring programs to fulfill the refuge's mission. Working cooperatively with the State of Alaska, aerial surveys are conducted throughout the year to monitor the health and productivity of the Southern Alaska Peninsula Caribou Herd. Brown bear, moose, tundra swans, Pacific black brant, Taverner's and cackling Canada geese, emperor geese, other waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds are also surveyed throughout the year to monitor population numbers and productivity. Since 1961, refuge staff have captured and banded Steller's eiders (a threatened species) during their molting period on Izembek Lagoon. The data generated by these studies provide wildlife managers with critical population and survival rate information.

Other management programs deal with harvest of brown bear, moose and caribou; salmon fishing; wildlife viewing and photography; and public education.