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To those who have seen it, the cottongrass means beauty and perhaps a dried flower
arrangement. But to a snow goose, the plant means fat, energy, and survival. To get it,
thousands of these birds fly hundreds of miles to dine at a very special table - the Arctic National
The geese come from their nesting grounds in Canada. They gather on the Refuge and the
Canadian coastal plain for only a few weeks in late August and September.
Having just raised their young, the adult geese are low on energy. The young geese are still
growing. All of the birds need to put on fat quickly. Why? Winter storms will soon drive them
south along Canada's Mackenzie River to California and Mexico. When the geese leave, they'll
fly nonstop more than 1,200 miles before they rest and feed again. The fat will supply the energy
The geese get much of it by eating the underground stem bases of cottongrass, a highly
nutritious and digestible plant food. They look for areas of wet tundra where there are few other
The birds feed like crazy - up to 16 hours a day. They eat as much as a third of their weight
every day, increasing their body fat by 400% in only two to three weeks - the same as a 150
pound person gaining 30 pounds of fat.
The geese gather in different places each fall. In some years, many of the birds feed on the
Refuge coastal plain, often between the Okpilak and Aichilik rivers. In other years, a majority
stay on the coastal plain in Canada. Numbers seen on the Refuge range from 13,000 to more
than 300,000 birds.
Good cottongrass feeding sites are small, patchy, and widely dispersed; there's never much
food at one place. The sites make up only about three percent of the Refuge coastal plain. Snow
geese, especially young birds, need access to large, undisturbed areas so they can find these sites
and get enough food - and fat - to survive migration.
The patchwork of gold and crimson tundra, the cool, crisp air, the waves of snow-white birds
against a cobalt blue sky -together this is what makes fall on the coastal plain such a magical
time, and the Arctic Refuge such a wonderful and important place.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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