Located in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, Teshekpuk Lake – the largest lake in Arctic Alaska and the third largest in the entire state – lies at the heart of one of the most productive and unique wetland complexes in the circumpolar Arctic. The area around Teshekpuk Lake contains critical breeding grounds for several important species.
Teshekpuk Lake has been recognized by the National Audubon Society and Birdlife International program as an Important Bird Area for shorebirds, as it hosts the highest density of shorebirds in the circumpolar Arctic. More than a dozen of Audubon’s Alaska WatchList species nest, molt or rest near Teshekpuk Lake, including threatened spectacled eiders, king eiders, red-throated loons, dunlins and buff-breasted Sandpipers. The areas north and east of Teshekpuk Lake provide ideal conditions for molting geese and other vulnerable birds: a remote location that’s free of development, large lakes where birds can escape from predators, and tender sedges to fuel their high energy demands.
The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area also provides high-value habitat areas and the calving grounds for the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd.
VISIT MORE: Peard Bay | Colville River | Kasegaluk Lagoon | Teshepuk Lake | Utukok River Uplands
PEOPLE IN THE REGION
Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding lands and waters have been important to the Native people of Alaska’s North Slope for thousands of years, and today Alaska Wilderness League works with the residents of Ataqasuk, Barrow and Nuiqsut who are speaking up to highlight their long running subsistence traditions. From protecting the ranges of the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd to keeping the waters in the region clean for the variety of fish that sustain residents year round, development in the Reserve poses a very real threat to the people and cultures that are sustained by harvesting food from the region’s land and waters.
Teshekpuk Lake Caribou: Teshekpuk Lake provides calving grounds and critically important insect-relief areas to the approximately 60,000-strong Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd;
Length: Males, 64-81 inches long/Females, 64-81 inches long;
Weight: Males 350-400 lbs/Females 180-260 lbs;
Fun Fact: Related to moose and deer, caribou are well adapted to their northern habitat and cooler climate, with hollow-hair fur that covers almost all of its body providing insulation in winter and flotation for swimming.
One of the largest current threats to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is energy development within the boundaries of the Reserve. ConocoPhillips’ Colville Delta-5 and Greater Mooses Tooth-1 production projects are located just a short distance away from the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. These projects are just the prelude to a potential spider-web of infrastructure creating lasting cumulative effects throughout the Reserve. Oil and gas development, which includes drilling pads, pipelines, roads, energy generation, hazardous chemicals and wastes, human wastes and gravel pits can have measurable and negative impacts on Arctic wildlife, particularly to caribou and nesting bird populations. Development and roads can also impact caribou herd movement and subsistence opportunities. In addition, there remains a threat from potential offshore development. Some parts of this Special Area could be opened for development infrastructure such as a pipeline to transport oil from offshore drilling through the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and into Alaska’s interior.
Climate change is also having a profound effect on the region – the disappearance of sea ice near Teshekpuk Lake is causing rapid erosion in the marshy, wildlife-rich area. In some places, the sea has pushed in half a mile and salt water has contaminated freshwater lakes. Migratory birds, caribou and other wildlife populations have lost habitat, and the sparse human infrastructure along the coastline has been damaged. As temperatures continue to rise, critical insect-relief areas for caribou and shorebird nesting habitat on the north side of Teshekpuk Lake could be severely degraded or lost forever.