The area used by post breeding Lesser Snow Geese in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in the northeastern-most portion of Alaska, adjacent to Canada. This area covers the Northeast Arctic coastal plain from the Canadian border west to Camden Bay and from the Beaufort Sea coast south to the foothills of the Brooks Range. The coastal plain within the region is flat near the coast with topographic relief and elevation increasing towards the south. Several river drainages cross the coastal plain as the rivers flow north from the Brooks Range to the Beaufort Sea.
The Northeast Arctic coastal plain is utilized by post breeding Lesser Snow Geese for foraging prior to their fall migration. These geese breed in the western Canadian Arctic and forage on the coastal plain to build energy reserves needed to migrate to their next stopover site in northern Alberta. The birds are primarily foraging on the underground stem base of cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium) and aerial shots of scouring rush (Equisetum variegatum). Based on aerial survey data, peak annual numbers of geese staging on the Arctic Refuge portion of the coastal plain has been over 325,000 birds. The numbers are highly variable because in some years the majority of geese stage in Canada and in other years on the Arctic Refuge.
Staging Snow Geese are easily disturbed by aircraft activity. Current levels of aircraft activity are relatively low during the time period Snow Geese are utilizing the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. However, if development were to occur in the 1002 Area, this activity and associated disturbance would likely increase. This could result in disruption of feeding behavior or displacement of birds, which could lead to reduced survival during migration. Juvenile birds are especially sensitive to the effects of this type of disturbance. It also is possible the development footprint could displace birds from foraging areas. Since foraging habitats are limited, geese may not be able to find alternative areas if displaced from these areas.
Most of the area utilized by post-breeding snow geese is within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and under federal ownership and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Approximately 28,000 ha of Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) lands are within this boundary. However, during recent surveys few snow goose flocks were found on KIC land. If KIC lands are excluded the core area utilized by snow geese is 100% under Federal, FWS ownership. If KIC lands are included, the Federal/FWS lands comprise 94% of the area and Native Tribal lands cover 6% of the area.
The area is dominated by tundra vegetation with low growing plants such as sedges, grasses, mosses, lichens, small herbs and dwarf shrubs. Taller shrubs are found in some of the river drainages. The areas near the coast are poorly drained and covered by small thaw lakes, low-centered polygons and wet meadows dominated by sedges (Carex spp.) and cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum). The more inland hilly areas are a mix of drier uplands with high and low centered polygons covered by moist sedge tundra mixed with wetter areas similar to those found near the coast. The southern regions, near the Brooks Range foothills, are primarily upland tundra dominated by cotton-grass tussocks and shrubs (Salix spp. and Betula nana).
The area utilized by Snow Geese is within the boundaries of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The eastern and southern portions of the area are managed as wilderness under provisions of the Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577). Land use for the remaining portion is determined by sections 1002 and 1003 of the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANLICA; Public Law 96-487). The provisions in section 1002 of ANLICA require assessment of the biological and geological resources in the region. Section 1003 says that the area is closed for development until opened by Congress. The baseline studies were concluded in the1980s, but Congress has not passed legislation to direct management of this area. Thus, the area is managed under the recommendations of the Refuge?s 1987 Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), which stipulates minimal management. Management of 1002 lands determine the land use of adjacent KIC lands as ANILCA states that resources in this area may not be developed unless the 1002 area is opened to development.