Arctic Beringia

The region hosts vast intact tundra landscapes and seascapes with robust assemblages of free-ranging native species such as walrus and caribou, supports vibrant mixed economies for indigenous communities, and is valued by diverse stakeholders across the globe. We use the best available science and indigenous knowledge, along with expertise in trans-boundary policy, to work with diverse communities, indigenous groups, agencies and other partners to understand and protect wild places and wildlife, including their role in local food security.

Where We Work

Arctic Beringia lies at the juncture of the eastern and western hemispheres, encompassing an area of tundra and highly productive shallow marine shelf areas that extend from the Kolyma River in the Chukotka region of the Russian Federation, across northern Alaska in the United States, and as far east as Victoria Island in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of Canada. The system is ecologically coherent, covering the range of many of the Pacific’s Arctic marine mammals and closely related terrestrial and aquatic fish and wildlife species. In addition, we focus on connectivity for the iconic migrations of migratory birds.

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Drivers of Change

This is an environment in an unprecedented era of transition—it is one of the fastest changing places on Earth. Rapid climate change at twice the global average rate has led to a catastrophic loss of summer sea ice over the past few decades and ice-free Arctic summers are predicted within decades. Earlier springs and rainier winters are challenging the resilience of many Arctic species. In conjunction, there is burgeoning industrial development, greater desire for commercial and recreational access to and through the Arctic, and profound social change for (and political engagement by) Indigenous Peoples.

18 degrees

During 2019, March temperatures in coastal Beringia were 18° F above average.


Strategic Approach

WCS draws on over a century of active engagement in Alaska and a continuous presence in the Arctic Beringia region since 2002. We build on that foundation to secure the long-term needs of wildlife through partnerships, including with industry and local peoples facing a growing development footprint and profound climate change impacts.

Together we are:

Our work leverages cross-cutting WCS programs such as Marine (MPA creation), Ocean Giants (noise research), Climate Change (developing models for climate change adaptation) and Livelihoods (co-productive models of understanding and conservation). We leverage relevant Country Programs (U.S., Canada, Russia) and a broader suite of countries for migratory birds. Our outreach includes direct engagement with the New York Aquarium’s Sea Cliffs Exhibit.

24 satellite tags

As of May 2019, WCS had deployed 24 satellite tags on wolverines to gain a better understanding of their behavior.

1st record

WCS logged the first record of Caspian terns north of the Arctic Circle. While surveying Arctic migratory shorebirds in Guatemala, WCS also noted the first Inca terns in that country.

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Photo Credit: ©Zak Pohlen/WCS

Measuring Our Effectiveness

Viability of New and Existing Protected Areas

We use science to ensure the long-term viability of existing protected areas (no loss of protections), including Wrangel Island World Heritage Area, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area, and implementation of new protected areas such as the recent 32,500 square kilometers of MPA in the Bering Sea.

Best Practices at Sea

We implement collaborative, science-based conservation approaches that inform best practices to prompt the adoption and monitoring of new conservation measures by primary vessel operators, and prioritization of the most productive coastal habitats by oil spill-response organizations.

Indigenous Communities

Engagement with the region’s Indigenous Peoples will lead to formalized stewardship plans for key wildlife species such as the Pacific walrus and iconic wolverine.

Recent Publications

Distribution and Occupancy of Wolverines on Tundra, Northwestern Alaska

Proposes four potential wolverine management zones with varying priorities for monitoring and managing wolverine populations.

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Biologging physiological and ecological responses to climatic variation: New tools for the climate change era.

Argues that integrating biologging technology into long-term monitoring programs will be instrumental in documenting and understanding ecological responses to climate change.

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The risk of rodent introductions from shipwrecks to seabirds on Aleutian and Bering Sea islands

The risk was greatest for Saint George (Bering Sea), Buldir (Western Aleutians) and Saint Matthew islands (Bering Sea). Keeping these rodent free would maintain their high conservation value.

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Understanding and adapting to observed changes in the Alaskan Arctic

The paper uses lessons from seven Alaskan cases studies to describe a typology of five elements important for the co-production of locally relevant actionable knowledge.

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Related Country Programs

WCS Canada

The program combines insights gained from “muddy boots” fieldwork with a big-picture conservation vision to speak up for species such as caribou, wolverine, bats, bison, freshwater fish and marine mammals. WCS Canada's unique approach has led to many conservation successes, including a seven-fold expansion of Nahanni National Park, protection of Yukon’s pristine Peel Watershed and the creation of the Castle Wildland Park in southern Alberta.

WCS Russia

The program works to protect the extensive forest and tundra ecosystems of the Russian Far East and the myriad species whose survival depends on these intact, functional ecosystems. WCS Russia uses science as a foundation for designing and implementing appropriate conservation actions for numerous species of wildlife, including Amur tigers, Far Eastern leopards, Kamchatka brown bears, and Blakiston’s fish owls.

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