Importance to waterfowl
The diversity of waterfowl species in the western boreal forests of Alaska rivals that of the prairie/pothole region. Densities of scaup (1.95 pairs/km2), northern pintail (1.79 pairs/km2) and American wigeon (1.73 pairs/km2) dominate duck breeding pairs (Conant and Dau 1991). Green-winged teal (1.05 pairs/km2), mallard (0.95 pairs/km2), and northern shoveler (0.89 pairs/km2) are also present in significant numbers. Canvasback, goldeneye, bufflehead, ring-necked duck, and scoters are also present throughout wetlands of the boreal forest. Tundra swans, trumpeter swans, white-fronted geese, and interior Canada geese have all increased in recent years. Several sea duck populations (including Steller’s eider, spectacled eider, long-tailed duck and all three species of scoter) have declined in recent years. These species use a mix of boreal, tundra and marine environments.
Importance to other birds
Common and Pacific loons or horned and red-necked grebes dominate deep wetland areas, while yellowlegs, spotted sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, and common snipe dominate shallow flooded areas. Mew gull and arctic tern are common throughout interior Alaska. Neotropical songbirds dominate forested stands, while several species of thrush and waterthrush are common in riparian habitats. Great gray and boreal owls hunt on wetland margins.
Over 88% of Alaska wetlands are under public ownership, with the principle agencies in the boreal forest being the USFWS, BLM, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. First Nation land holdings are also critical. The Doyan Corporation holds some 5,061,000 ha of land in the Alaskan boreal and is the single largest private landowner in the United States.
Challenges to the western boreal forest of Alaska come in the form of projected development. In 1999, more hydropower projects are proposed for Alaska than all other states combined. The proposed (but defeated) Rampart Canyon Dam would have caused the inundation of nearly 26,900 km2 of the Yukon flats and the loss of 1.5 million ducks from the fall flight (Bartonek et al. 1971). Currently, pulp and paper operations are small for interior Alaska, but demand is expected to rise. Mineral extraction, especially gold and tungsten, has altered wetlands and destroyed some salmon streams. Petroleum and gas production will need expanded pipeline development through the boreal forest. Increasing human growth and tourism will demand increased road access to Alaska’s interior, which will result in altered hydrology, fragmentation of forests, and accelerated development. As human demands on the natural resources of the north expand, viable landcover and waterbird surveys are critical.