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.
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.
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.