The Coastal Plain – The Sacred Place Where Life Begins

The animal that has most come to symbolize the Refuge is the caribou. The Porcupine Caribou Herd, at nearly 170,000 strong, migrates throughout the Refuge and northwestern Canada. Pregnant females come to the unprotected coastal plain of the Refuge to give birth in late May and early June. They will birth as many as 40,000 calves in this same location each year. The annual migration of this herd is the reason the Arctic Refuge is sometimes called “America’s Serengeti.”

The Gwich’in people, who have depended on the caribou for thousands of years call the caribou birthing place, the coastal plain, “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins).


The Arctic Refuge is the homeland to the Gwich’in (Athabascan) people of interior Alaska and the Inupiat (Eskimo) people of the north coast. Both cultures have depended on the caribou and the land for food, clothing and their subsistence way of life, for thousands of years. The Gwich’in have respected this land for millennia, caring for its clean air, clean water and abundant wildlife.

For a detailed map of the Arctic Refuge that shows the traditional homeland of the Gwich’in people, the range of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and the location of nearby oil fields and wells, click here.