Alaska contains all of America’s Arctic lands and waters. These Arctic ecosystems are both vibrant and delicate. During the summer months, the Arctic is a rich and productive habitat for breeding marine mammals, wildfowl and shorebirds, and for rearing young caribou calves. It also is the lifeblood of Alaska Natives who have depended year-round on these ecosystems for thousands of years. But the Arctic is also fragile. Slight disruptions, changes in weather, and human activities have significant impacts on the Arctic ecosystem, taking the land decades to recover.
The largest threats to Arctic ecosystems continue to be resource extraction and related infrastructure—oil and gas drilling, large-scale mining projects, and roads crisscrossing delicate ecosystems. Climate change and increased industrial development are placing unprecedented stress on the region. With shrinking sea ice, this pressure now extends from the lands to the water. Ships are already sailing into Arctic seas where no ports or emergency equipment is available to deal with oil spills or other catastrophes. The wilderness character of the Arctic is on the brink of changing forever. Trustees’ role as the legal counsel for the Arctic is essential to the protection of the people and the wildlife that depend on the region.