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Western Alaska - More Information

Background information on the Western Alaska/Aleutian - Bering Sea Islands region, a DU conservation priority area
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Importance to other birds

Even without its large populations of waterfowl, the Yukon Delta would be unique for its large populations of waterbirds (King and Lensink 1971). Arctic and red-throated loons are common breeders, as are bar-tailed godwits, dunlins, western sandpipers, northern and red phalaropes, and black and ruddy turnstones. Coastal habitats provide key staging areas for bristle-thighed curlews and whimbrels during late summer (King and Lensink 1971). Colonies of sea birds have been described at 135 locations in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, exclusive of the Aleutian Islands (King and Lensink 1971). At least 26 colonies contain more than 100,000 breeding birds and several contain more than a million. Dominant sea bird species include red-faced and pelagic cormorants, red-legged and black-legged kittiwakes, Aleutian terns, Kittlitz’s murrelets, horned puffins, and least and whiskered auklets. This region is the most important area for alcids and kittiwakes in western North America.

Environmental risks

The principal risk in this area is contamination of near shore waters. Petroleum exploration has been stopped in recent years by a drilling moratorium. There are numerous offshore wells in the Bering Sea, but the greatest risk is from maritime shipping, especially international ships that are not kept to the same standard as U.S. or Canadian vessels. Floating petroleum in the near shore waters or the principal lagoons of the Bering Sea could destroy large numbers of geese and sea ducks (King and Dau 1981). Similarly, oil cast by storm tides into the nesting habitats of the Yukon Delta could cause considerable waterfowl mortality (King and Dau 1981). Marine terminals for oil storage have been proposed for western Alaska, even at Izembek Lagoon. Digital landcover maps of this region are critical for resource managers to make sound management decisions. Existing landcover maps will facilitate planning or execution of hazardous material containment. Through pro-active delivery of landcover scenes, change detection is feasible if significant spill occurs.

Current conservation programs

Ducks Unlimited has digitally mapped wetlands and associated uplands through remote sensing of the Lake Iliamna region at the base of the Alaska Peninsula and near coastal areas of Norton Sound. Little digital landcover data exists for the vast majority of this region. Partnerships with the Alaska Science Center, USFWS, and University of Alaska have resulted in research efforts on brant, cackling Canada goose, emperor goose, greater scaup, and spectacled eider.

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