Izembek Wilderness Refuge Alaska Lzembek-Wilderness-Refuge-Alaska

Izembek Wilderness Refuge Alaska

Article by:
James Fargo Balliett - M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

Reviewed by:
On August 20, 2017
Last modified:August 20, 2017


Facts about Izembek Wilderness Refuge in Alaska

Izembek Wilderness Facts

The Izembek Wilderness is a remote subarctic ecosystem situated on the Peninsula. The region designated in 1960 as the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge consists of 650 square kilometres (1,684 square kilometres), or 416,000 acres (168,349 hectares). Of almost treeless habitat, such as mountains, active volcanoes, glaciers, foothills, upland meadows, freshwater lakes and rivers, thermal springs, and extensive wetlands. It’s bordered by water on two sides, with the Pacific Ocean on the south and the Bering Sea on the north. Izembek is approximately 634 miles (1,020 kilometres) southwest of the City of Anchorage.

The refuge includes 279 square kilometres (723 square kilometres), or 178,560 meters (72,261 hectares), of wetlands. Protected by a string of barrier islands, plant systems and bird breeding grounds characterise these wetlands.

The most common type is the coastal lagoon that spans 150 square miles (389 sq km), or 93,371 meters (37,786 hectares), of saltwater habitat. Vegetation within the lagoon is dominated by a dense forest of marine eelgrass (Zostera marina), the biggest bed of its type in North America.

The Izembek Lagoon features Brackish a barrier beach and waters. The beach reduces storm effects provides protection from the sea and permits the waters, heated by the sun, to encourage a diversity of species.

The eelgrass a unique ecosystem grass blades that are delicate produce a free mass which provides considerable quantities of food serves as habitat for fish and clams and filters water.

Surrounding the lagoon are marshes and wet meadows composed of Lyme grass (Elymus Arenaria) and many species of sedges (Carex sp.). The region supports a bird population that may exceed 500,000 birds in a year.

The weather at the Alaskan Peninsula is cold, wet, and windy. With constant winds, around 20 mph (32 mph) and gusts over 50 mph (80 mph), the subarctic temperature rarely climbs above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) with winter temperatures often below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).

There are species of fish that occupy the Izembek waters, such as walleye (Theragra chalcogramma), herring (Clupea harengus), and cod (Gadus macrocephalus). A common fish is the Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Before they die, these salmon number in the millions, and return to their birthplace upriver to spawn.

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Izembek Wilderness

The Chinook, coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and pink salmon (Oncorhynchus Gorbuscha) are essential foods Of the brown bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), a resident that primarily feeds on berries and fish in the summer months in preparation for hibernation during the winter. Weighing up to 1,600 pounds (726 kilograms) those bears are apex predators, living on top of the food chain and hunted only by humans. Mature brown bears stand more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall on them.

Throughout the breeding season, Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) collect in rookeries like this one. Those sea lions’ amount is dwindling due to overfishing of their food source fish species like herring, pollock, and poultry. (© Alexander/Fotolia) back legs and can be quite competitive, especially when a mother’s young cubs are threatened.

The grey wolf (Canus Lupus) stalks the open grasses and Meadows looking for small prey in the summer. Each fall, packs of around a dozen wolves search for bigger game like the caribou (Rangifer tarandus). Once the weather cools over 54,000 caribous migrate in the refuge from their calving grounds.

Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), the biggest of the waters are, occupied by species. Weighing 50 pounds (23 kilograms) at dawn, these sea lions feed on their mother’s rich milk and then flourish on an ample supply of fish. Adult males grow up to an enormous 2,400 pounds (1,089 kilograms).

Birds exceed the winter population of 23,000, and over eighty-two species, almost half a million birds, live in the wetlands. The endangered Steller’s eider (Polysticta stelleri), a tiny marine duck, spends its days at the lagoons, diving underwater for short periods searching for small clams. The estimated 130,000 Brant (Branta bernicla) and 62,000 emperor geese (Philacte Canagica) which visit the region during their spring and autumn migrations also feed on submerged vegetation in the lagoons.

The Izembek Refuge is located near notable volcanoes, including the 9,373-foot (2.857-meter) Shishaldin Volcano, among the very active in the Aleutian mountain range. Located about 680 miles (1,094 kilometres) southwest of Anchorage, near the middle of Unimak Island, Shishaldin is a symmetric stratovolcano that creates the maximum summit in the Aleutian Islands.

How Many Times Has Shishaldin Volcano Erupted?

Shishaldin erupted twenty-eight times including eruptions in 1999, 1995, and 2004. The biggest of its eruptions in the past 175 years happened on April 19, 1999, once the volcano spewed a 45,000-foot (13,716-meter). A column of steam and debris which could be viewed from 100 miles (160 kilometres) of basaltic lava flowed down the northern flank of the mountain, covering everything in its path with several feet of fresh rock.

The volcano introduced a visible plume of steam. Adjacent tectonic pressure also has been trigger earthquakes; many are under the size of 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10) and continue up to two minutes.

Natives of Izembek are Aleutians  since 3000 B.C.E

Groups of natives, known as Aleutians, have inhabited the Izembek region since 3000 B.C.E. Historians theorise that these people today descend from Asiatic groups that spanned the Bering Straight land bridge around 5,000 to 15,000 years back. Sites in the Izembek area have provided evidence of shelters which were set up for the processing of game and fish and during summer time for toolmaking.

Most of these early explorers some settled in Alaska, although continued toward the centre of North America. We’re relied upon the marine wildlife for nearly all of their needs and determined on the ecosystem, including fuel, clothing, and food.

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Izembek Wilderness

Spanish explorers arrived in 1741 and found a property of both harshnesses that is extreme with months More than three-quarters of beauty and this year. When Russian Explorers wintered at bay in 1761, the area Izembek was called by them Following the physician of the ship, Karl Izembek.

Under occupation between tens of thousands of the Aleuts, 1820 and 1780 died from conflict and disease, and they were made to unite their settlements. The 1830s had, their population decimated from 25,000 to 2,000. Finding the land tricky to settle, the Aleutian Islands were sold by Russia in 1867 into the USA. The next century saw the Aleut people recover.

As of 2004, Izembek’s regional population was roughly 2,629 (37 percent were Aleuts), spread across a region known as the Aleutians East Borough a 15,012-square-mile (38,881-square-kilometer) expanse that includes 8,020 kilometres (12,904 kilometres) of saltwater habitats.

Cold Bay’s village sits alongside the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. During World War II, it hosted Fort Randall, a U.S. military base; up to 20,000 soldiers were stationed here in 1945. With just residents in 2009, it offers a community centre, an airport, a weather station, a few companies, and a visitor centre for the refuge.

Plane traffic used to stop for refuelling before the 1970s when propeller aeroplanes were replaced by jets with space capacity. Today, the primary use of the remaining 10,420-foot-long (3,176-meters-long) airfield is for local visitors and emergency landings for aeroplanes crossing the Pacific Ocean.

Izembek Wilderness Pollution and Damage

Approximately 47 percent of Western Alaska’s 355 million acres (144 million hectares) was classified as wetlands. Stress was undergone by the Izembek wetlands from an array of elements from the twentieth century.

Scientists estimate that Alaska has dropped 1 percent (1,668,500 acres, or 675,218 hectares) of its wetlands within the past 100 years. About 30,000 acres (12,141 hectares) of wetlands in western Alaska have been lost to oil and gas mining since the 1990s. Wetlands have damaged the evolution of transportation systems, human settlement, and by forestry practices.

Volcanic eruption and earthquake activity are threats to the Izembek wetlands. Throughout the twentieth century, along with Shishaldin, the nearby volcanoes Amak (1,683 feet, or 513 meters), Pavlof (8,261 ft, or 2,518 meters), and Frosty (6,299 ft, or 1,920 meters) were all active. Frosty had the biggest eruption in the region sending lava, rock fragments, and gas.

The most recent eruption was from Shishaldin in 2004, when it emitted plumes and lava into the atmosphere, in addition to strong odours of sulphur. The volcano triggered earthquakes lasting up to six minutes in length. The ecosystem, notably through the deposition of inches of fine ash debris was upset by the activity.

Although oil drilling has been performed since 1902 in the Bering Seaonshore oil/gas extraction leases for areas north and east of the refuge was signed in 2005. Oil drilling operations require storage facilities that threaten wetlands, heavy machinery, pipelines, roads, and extraction equipment.

Another danger is the passing of tanker boats that take oil throughout the Bering from Alaska Strait to other nations. If there were a ship to spill oil, like the 987-foot (301-meter) Exxon Valdez failed in 1989 in Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons (42 million litres) of crude oil, the results would be catastrophic to the wetlands and wildlife. The Exxon Valdez accident was estimated to have led to the deaths of 250,000 seabirds, 3,000 sea otters 250 bald eagles, killer whales that are twenty-two, and several billion fish.



Amount Used per Year in GallonsEstimated Spillage Amount, as a PercentTotal Estimated Spillage Amounts, in Gallons


Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2004.













Paint thinner



Battery acid



PCB liquidsunknown50


In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) prepared a report documenting the contamination of parts of the Izembek Refuge by Fort Randall, conducted by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force between 1942 and 1950, and chronicled the collective cleanup attempts by the national government and local communities. After the base closed, the whole campus and its contents were left to rust, such as an incinerator as well as 3,000 55-gallon (208-litre) drums holding fuel, pesticides, dicing agents, and other toxic substances.

Waste materials or unused were buried in many locations. The report estimates that 300 acres (121 hectares) of garbage wasn’t properly disposed of and were leaching pollutants to groundwater aquifers. 1994 fuel tanks removed from the runway and the waterfront area, and ventilation systems were setup to clean the lands in 1997. The incinerator was demolished and buried.

From 2000, up to 2,250 55-gallon (208-litre), drums were eliminated with lots of the surrounding land. Scientists have identified pesticides and oil compounds from the soil, and soil remediation projects were underway as of 2010.

Evidence of sea pollution has become evident in Alaska. Massive amounts of trash ingest it and kill hundreds of birds as the birds error the coloured material for food or get tangled in it and drown.

As areas warm at original prices scientists are documenting evidence of climate change in Alaska. Between 1949 and 2006, the Alaska Climate Research Centre reported that the average air temperature increased by 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit (15.9 degrees Celsius). Regional warming has led to water level rises to 3 inches (7.6 centimetres), submerging land and altering wetland footprints.

Izembek Wilderness Mitigation and Management

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge has been protected via a variety of conservation actions. In 1972, Alaska’s state recognised a portion of the lagoon. In 1980, in an attempt to further protect the wetlands, the U.S. Congress designated 300,000 acres (121,406 hectares) as a national wilderness under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge became the first site to be designated a Ramsar Site of International Importance.

Even though there exists a conservationist approach among some sectors of the community, others, such as native and community leaders, have lobbied for the development of the area. Paving a road through the Izembek Refuge, from Cold Bay (population 81) into King Cove (inhabitants 807), became a national issue in 1998 since the U.S. Congress supported the project with $40 million in financing.

Supporters included Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and the King Cove Corporation, an Aleutian firm that proposed a land exchange of 96 square miles (249 square kilometres) of a blend of personal King Cove Corporation and Alaskan state lands for the 27-mile-long (43-kilometer-long), one-third-mile-wide (.53-kilometer-wide) roadway between the two cities. Of constructing a street through a wilderness 12, the precedent drew protest from Aleuts and environmentalists.

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Izembek Wilderness

As a compromise, Congress appropriated $37.5 million in 2007 under the King Cove Health and Safety Act for improvements to the King Cove medical practice and airport and also to finance a marine transport system link, a hovercraft, between the two cities. The 98-foot (30-meter) hovercraft, sadly, often was not able to carry emergency medical passenger’s because of rough water; additionally, it had been too pricey for the local authorities to cover its operating expenses.

After a continued disagreement, on March 2009, Congress passed the Izembek and Alaska Peninsula Refuge Enhancement Act, which established a procedure to increase the size of the national wilderness areas by over 61,000 acres (24,686 hectares) in exchange for a small, gravel single-lane street leading from King Cove to the Cold Bay airport.

Conservation groups, like the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and the Wilderness Society, strongly oppose the road project and have requested the U.S. Interior Department to stop the job a requirement to get an environmental impact statement as they believe that it goes contrary to the general interest of the sanctuary.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Complex Land Protection Plan

This plan’s Aim was to answer the following questions:

  • What are the private lands within the Izembek complicated
  • What resources are we trying to protect?
  • What methods do we need for source protection?
  • How can the FWS set priorities for resource protection, and what are these priorities
  • What property protection measures do we urge
  • How might the FWS protection priorities affect private landowners

In 1998, the Izembek Wildlife Wildlife Refuge Complex Land Protection Plan was developed by the FWS. The program included the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and additional surrounding national wildlife refuges, such as the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge and Unimak Island of the Alaska Maritime Refuge, totalling 2.9 million acres (1.2 million hectares).

Of the 2.5 million acres (1.1 million hectares) of surface lands protected, private landowners held names or claims to approximately 989,267 meters (400,342 hectares), roughly 39 percent.

The plan highlighted the fact that wildlife to be able to manage the area, all landowners national, state, and private, and doesn’t follow boundaries needs to cooperate to protect the region. The plan said that collaboration ought to be based on mutual consent and voluntary. This type of a document is revised every ten to fifteen years.