The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve) is the largest single unit of public land in the nation, spanning nearly 23 million acres across the western North Slope of Alaska managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The Reserve includes some of our nation’s most vital natural resources – millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands with important habitat for migratory birds, brown bears, caribou, threatened polar bears, walrus, endangered beluga whales and more. The Alaska Native communities that live along the Reserve have maintained a subsistence lifestyle for thousands of years based on the Reserve’s living resources.

Currently five areas of exceptional wildlife value have been are set aside for protection within the Reserve. They are the Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Peard Bay, Kasegaluk Lagoon and the Utukok River Uplands Special Areas.

Photo: Ryan Askren, USGS

Each year, birds from across the country travel to these Special Areas to nest and raise their young. These protected Special Areas allow them to molt and recover from their long fall journeys, which often traverse many states in the United States. Alaska Wilderness League is working to protect these important areas within the Reserve.

The Reserve is also home to other wildlife, including two caribou herds. The nearly 60,000 strong Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd and the approximately 230,000-head Western Arctic Caribou Herd. The Teshekpuk Lake herd is critically important to the Alaska Natives in the area. In addition, the cliffs along the Colville River provide vital nesting sites and adjacent food hunting areas for peregrine and gyrfalcons, golden eagles, and rough-legged hawks. More than 3,500 beluga whales use Kasegaluk Lagoon to breed and feed. Both brown and polar bears also use this area.

One of the birds that makes an amazing journey to the Reserve is the tundra swan. Each year, tundra swans (also called “whistling swans” because of the noise they wings make flying) migrate from the far northwestern corner of Alaska to the very outskirts of our nation’s capital.

You can help us create a virtual migration to BLM headquarters in Washington, DC, so the folks who manage this amazing piece of public land understand that citizens from across the country want to see stronger protections for these Special Areas.

IMG_1681International Migratory Bird Day is May 9 – you can celebrate by making a paper swan, taking a picture of it (with you, with your pet, with your class, in an area where you enjoy seeing migratory birds, etc.) and emailing it to us at – please include your name and city and state.

Instructions (start with a square piece of paper)

Learn more about the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska:

Take a virtual tour of the Reserve

Short, ten-minute introductory video

Map of Reserve Bird Migrations (Thanks to partner Audubon Alaska)

Downloadable Wildlife Values Map of the Reserve (Thanks to our partners Audubon Alaska and The Wilderness Society)

For students:

Introduction to the Reserve

Animals of the Reserve

History of Origami