Alaska Conservation Foundation > Experience Alaska > Alaska’s Sanctuaries, Parks, Refuges and Communities > Refuges > Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the crown jewel of Alaska’s national refuges. At more than 19 million acres, it’s by far the biggest – bigger than any of the 10 smallest states in the lower 48.
Located in the far northeast corner of Alaska, the Refuge encompasses an entire arctic and subarctic ecosystem, free of permanent human development.
From the lowland boreal forest of the Porcupine River plateau, the Arctic Refuge stretches north into rolling taiga uplands, across the 9,000 foot high spine of the Brooks Range, and then down across miles of sloping tundra to the coastal lagoons and barrier islands at the Arctic Ocean.
Eight million acres are officially-designated wilderness – easily the largest wilderness area in the entire national refuge system.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is also the country’s most controversial refuge.
Since the 1970s, conservationists across the nation have worked to protect the Refuge’s coastal plain from oil drilling.
It’s the only area of Alaska’s arctic coast that is not open to drilling or other development. It’s a refuge in the most literal sense of the word – a critical safe place for two large herds of migrating caribou, polar bears in search of denning areas, and thousands of sea ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds.
Bringing in drilling rigs, filling swaths of tundra with roads and gravel pads and pipelines, scouring gravel from riverbeds and siphoning scarce fresh water for industrial operations would sacrifice this last oasis for arctic wildlife to the nation’s insatiable appetite for oil.
For more than three decades, though, this battle has been fought to a stalemate. Congress has not authorized drilling, but it hasn’t given the coastal plain the permanent protection it deserves as a wilderness area. Learn more about ACF’s work in the Refuge.
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