America’s Western Arctic is one of our last great, wild places. At 23 million acres—or the size of Indiana—the Western Arctic is the country’s largest single parcel of public lands. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and with the unfortunate name of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, the Western Arctic is an undiscovered treasure for many Americans. Imagine only four communities within the state of Indiana and you have the comparison of Barrow, Nuiqsut, Atqasuk, and Wainwright that lie within the boundaries of this piece of public land. However, these villages are relatively new and established in the 20th century while the people have been living in the Arctic for thousands of years. Remnants of many people’s ancestors can still be found throughout these wild lands.
It takes a serious commitment to travel to the Western Arctic for recreation, but the journey itself would be the trip of a lifetime. There are a number of local Alaska guiding companies that offer unforgettable trips to help people experience a place like no other. Adventures can center around rafting, packrafting or canoeing wild rivers, like the Colville River; backpacking through the Utukok Uplands; or camping along the coast near Kasegaluk Lagoon. It is important to visit or communicate with nearby villages about your journey as the lands, waters, and wildlife serve the subsistence-based communities throughout the Western Arctic.
Countless rivers flow throughout the Western Arctic to their final destination of the Arctic Ocean. Up to 12 rivers have been recommended for Wild & Scenic River designations, including the Colville, Nigu, Etivluk, Ipnavik, Kuna, Kiligwa, Nuka, Awuna, Kokolik, and Utukok Rivers and Driftwater and Carbon Creeks. That is to say these rivers have “outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, to be preserved in free-flowing condition” and “that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” You would be hard pressed to find a river in the Western Arctic that couldn’t fit that description!
Hunting and Fishing
Many Alaska companies also lead guided hunting or fishing trips in this wild place. The largest caribou herd, the Western Arctic Herd, is one of the most sought-after prizes. However, hunters may also be interested in the Dall sheep at the southern edge of the area, and anglers will find the rivers filled with fish throughout. Many of the communities in and around the Western Arctic depend on the wildlife resources for survival, so conflict with sport hunting groups is a constant tension. Sport hunters may unknowingly divert caribou or impact wildlife movements that communities depend on, and changes to animal movement and in climate create an uncertain future for wildlife in the Western Arctic. It is best for any hunting or recreation trip to communicate with nearby villages–even if it seems those villages are miles away the impacts on the wildlife can still be felt there.
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