The Alaska Initiative: Born to Fly

Conserving wetlands and waterfowl in America's Last Frontier

By Devin Blankenship

Alaska is home to some of the most expansive and unspoiled wetlands on earth. The state also ranks among North America's most important waterfowl production areas, supporting 15 to 20 percent of the continent's breeding ducks, geese, and swans. From the rugged southern coast to the sprawling interior to the remote tundra of the North Slope, Alaska is a vast and wild place.

Much of the state is spanned by the Western Boreal Forest, the world's largest remaining intact ecosystem. This biologically rich region encompasses more than 1.5 billion acres of forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and streams across the United States and Canada. Alaska's Boreal landscapes and immense tracts of wetlands in inland river deltas and on the northern tundra produce millions of ducks and geese each year.

But development is increasing in this still largely pristine state. Alaska's abundant natural resources are in high demand, and their extraction can conflict with the needs of waterfowl and other wildlife. The loss of Alaska's precious wetlands would have a serious impact on waterfowl populations, especially in the Pacific Flyway. That's why Ducks Unlimited is working to protect Alaska's wetlands while they remain productive and healthy.

Utilizing the most sophisticated technology available, DU has mapped 200 million acres of wetlands and associated upland habitats across Alaska during the past 20 years. These maps are being used by DU and cooperating state and federal agencies and industry partners to create comprehensive management plans that will conserve wetlands and other important waterfowl habitats for future generations. For example, Ducks Unlimited worked with the North Slope Science Initiative to develop a land cover map that will serve as the foundation for future landscape-level modeling and management decisions on the North Slope. The map covers nearly 60 million acres, including the Arctic coastal plain, which provides key breeding and staging habitat for many waterfowl species, such as Pacific brant, greater white-fronted geese, long-tailed ducks, and eiders, as well as great numbers of shorebirds, caribou, and other wildlife.

High-tech mapping projects require substantial funding, but they are a bargain compared to the cost of restoring degraded habitats. DU's ability to continue this important work depends greatly on the generosity of individuals who share a commitment to conserving Alaska's wetlands, waterfowl, and other wildlife. Charitable support for the Alaska Initiative will also enable DU to conduct important science, public policy, and outreach efforts on behalf of the state's wetlands and waterfowl.

Habitat loss and water shortages in the western United States bring great urgency to efforts to conserve the Pacific Flyway's remaining wetlands and other crucial waterfowl habitats. Waterfowl are a continentally shared resource, and Ducks Unlimited has worked across North America since 1937 to ensure a bright future for waterfowl and for waterfowl hunters. By contributing to the Alaska Initiative, you will be supporting important waterfowl habitat conservation efforts on the breeding grounds where many of North America's ducks and geese are produced. Through your support, DU will help ensure that the vast wetlands of Alaska are protected for future generations of waterfowl, waterfowl hunters, and others who cherish the state's rich outdoor heritage. For more information about how you can support this and other DU initiatives, visit ducks.org/DUinitiatives.

Devin Blankenship is a communications specialist in DU's Western Region.