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Backpacker Magazine – June 2003

Alaska, Colville River

Visit this remote section of the Arctic before climate change alters it forever

by: BACKPACKER Editors


What better place to thumb your nose at global warming than in the National Petroleum Reserve, a 23.5-million-acre de facto wilderness just to the left of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's North Slope? Here, climate change is happening three to four times faster than in the Lower 48. On the 160-mile flatwater paddle from the tiny outpost of Umiat to the Colville Delta, you'll pass huge permafrost cliffs melting so fast they send immense chunks toppling into the water with cannonlike booms and miniature tidal waves. On the riverbanks, giant redwood logs and the tusks of 10,000- to 40,000-year-old mammoths are emerging from the ice that preserved them.

Known more for its wildlife than its oil, this preserve houses some of the world's largest concentrations of nesting peregrines and shorebirds. North America's northernmost moose population thrives on willows growing ever thicker with the warming climate, and red fox are spreading northward to compete with arctic fox. Ocean Point, near trip's end, harbors the northernmost dinosaur fossils ever found, just another reminder of the power of climate change.

Contact: Northern Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, (907) 474-2200; wwwndo.ak.blm.gov/npra/




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