Approximately 65% of the nation's wetlands are located in Alaska covering approximately 174 million acres, or
about 43% of the State's surface area1. Wetlands are areas that are inundated or saturated by
surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances
do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Alaska's wetlands
include moist and wet tundra types, permafrost areas, marshes, bogs, fens, marshes, swamps, and salt marshes.
The state's many intertidal, riparian and shallow water ponds and associated wetlands are recognized as
important breeding habitats for numerous migratory bird species. The value of wetlands to wildlife in Alaska is
not limited to migratory birds; many mammals, fish and other species utilize the habitat year round. Wetlands
located within key watersheds also provide rearing habitat to juvenile salmon. Intertidal wetlands serve as a
transition zone for anadromous fish moving to and from freshwater to the marine environment.
Wetlands provide many other valuable ecological functions, such as insulation for permafrost (temperature regulation) and maintenance of water quality by slowly filtering excess nutrients, sediments, and pollutants before water seeps into rivers, streams, and underground aquifers. Wetlands provide valuable flood attenuation in some flood prone areas due to the ability to intercept, retain and slowly release large amounts of surface water. Wetlands are also valued for their many recreational uses from hiking, photography/wildlife watching, hunting/fishing, and paddling (canoe and kayak). In Alaska, many of the areas that are economically important to the state are located in areas with high concentrations of wetlands.
Alaska is one fifth the size of the entire United States and is the only state with land area north of the Arctic Circle. Despite its resource potential and global impact, however, Alaska has the most limited geospatial data coverage of all states in the nation. Accurate, detailed geospatial information that meets national standards is lacking for much of the state, inhibiting responsible development, permitting and resource conservation, delaying or preventing adequate response to natural disasters and emergencies, and preventing effective measurement and monitoring of ecological processes.
1 - Hall, Jonathan V., W.E. Frayer, and Bill O. Wilen. 1994. Status of Alaska Wetlands. U.S. Fish and Wildl. Serv. 32pp.