ANCHORAGE - This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Birds from six continents rely on the Arctic Refuge for nesting, breeding, staging, and molting; their ranges reach across the Lower 48 states and beyond. Birdwatchers from around the United States joined in the 50th anniversary celebration by competing in the first-ever Arctic Refuge Fall Migration Birding Challenge to find the most birds in their state from the Arctic Refuge's bird list.
"The Arctic Refuge is globally important for migrating and breeding birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds," said Nils Warnock, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska. "For more than 50 years scientists and conservationists have called for protection of the Arctic Refuge because of its rich habitat. The Birding Challenge is an entertaining way of reminding people that birds connect the remote Arctic Refuge with their own backyards."
"The Mississippi Team" captured first place in the Birding Challenge, spotting 87 species also found in the Arctic Refuge - such as the Arctic-nesting Baird's Sandpiper. The "Cullman 25" team rounded up 64 species in Alabama to grab second place. The "Smoky Hills" team from Kansas took the hotly contested third place with 53 species.
In addition to more than 180 species of birds, the Arctic Refuge provides important habitat for 36 land mammals, and 9 marine mammals, including iconic Arctic species such as polar bear, muskox, arctic fox, snowy owl, and beluga whale. Last week, in honor of the 50th anniversary, 170 scientists sent a letter to President Obama recognizing the key role the Arctic Refuge plays for birds and other wildlife and urging strong protection for the Coastal Plain.
The scientists' letter to President Obama is available at www.AudubonAlaska.org.