Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve whose WDPA code is: 22490 is a protected area in the United States located in Alaska, with a land area of ​​53,321 km², managed by the National Park Service.
Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve is located in the southern part of Alaska and is the largest national park in all of the USA with the nation’s second peak, Mount Saint Elias, 5,489 meters high.
The park is accessible via a highway from Anchorage; two roads penetrate the park, making the interior easily accessible for campers and trekking enthusiasts. In 2004, there were over 57,000 tourists in the park, a rapidly growing figure.
The transboundary park system comprising the Kluane, Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, both for its highly spectacular landscapes and for preserving the very important habitats of the grizzly, caribou and Dall sheep.

Geography –
Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve is characterized by countless wonders of geology. Imposing peaks, volcanoes, countless glaciers and huge rivers set the stage for unsurpassed geological exploration. This diverse landscape attracts researchers from around the world to investigate volcanism, glaciation, plate tectonics, and Quaternary geology.
Southern Alaska is a mosaic of geologically distinctive crustal fragments separated by major fault systems. These fragments exist in all shapes and sizes, but each has its own story. All are exotic, that is, they were formed elsewhere and transported to the current position by the movements of the crustal plates. Some have been rotated relative to their neighbors, and some have been moved great distances relative to less traveled neighbor fragments. Thus, the adjacent fragments generally differ in the characteristics of the rocks that constitute them and differ in the structural modifications that those rocks have undergone.
In southern Alaska, the juxtaposition of disparate terrains created a large-scale collage. Collectively, the processes by which the collage was assembled (by which south-central Alaska grew with the addition of exotic terrains over the last 200 million years or so) are called accretion tectonics. This process continues today in Alaska: the last land to arrive, Yakutat soil, is still being moved, jamming against and under the land to the north and west.
The composition of these soils is varied: some represent pieces of old continental crust, while parts of others are made up of oceanic crust. Some fragments represent the remains of volcanic island chains formed in the open sea (such as the Aleutian islands). Others represent volcanic chains formed on the edge of a continent (such as western South America). Some soils are made up almost entirely of old eroded material from the North American border.
These soils are assumed to have formed, for the most part, from in and around the Pacific Ocean basin. Some may have been carried as “rafts” pushed onto a conveyor belt of converging oceanic crust. With sufficient time, the oceanic crust created by the expansion of the seafloor has the potential to transport exotic terrains great distances from their places of origin. Other land may have been carried north along faults near the continent’s border. The Yakutat terrain provides a prime example, having been transposed 375 miles along the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather transformed fault system over the past 30 million years.
Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve is, therefore, a fantastic laboratory and its extraordinary collection of mountains and geological features was one of the main reasons for the creation of the park.
Within the park there are four mountain ranges: the Wrangell Mountains, the St. Elias Mountains, the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range (Mentasta / Nutzotin Mountains) and were created by plate collisions in the earth’s crust. Many of the peaks within the Wrangell Mountains were once active volcanoes. Today only Mount Wrangell remains active.

Climate –
The climate of Alaska is generally cold but can be distinguished according to the area of ​​the country: in the south, in particular Juneau, it is the only place in the state where temperatures are milder, in fact it is around an average of -8 ° C, and never higher than 0 °.
The area is also the snowiest because the ocean accumulates humidity: the average accumulations reach an average of 8 meters. Inland, on the other hand, there is a much more rigid climate, in fact Fairbanks has an average in January of −19 ° C / −28.5 ° C and in July of 12 ° C / 22 ° C, the other locations are often more cold and January averages reach −34 ° C, roughly as much as the coldest places in the Yukon, where monthly averages are below zero 8 months a year and the lowest temperatures are recorded, down to −62, 1 ° C a. The snow cover lasts from 6 to 8 months and the rivers are ice-free for only 4 months.
Precipitation is very scarce at 200-250 mm per year, most of it in summer, the sea is frozen from October to June with a maximum temperature of 1 ° C, the snow cover remains from September to early June, but the residues can be seen all the year.

Flora –
The most common flower in Alaska appears to be fireweed, which is found in vibrant purple lines along the highways. In the Wrangells, it accounts for 54% of the flora of Alaska (which has about 1535 species) and 69% of the flora of the Yukon Territory. The high diversity of subarctic plant communities at Wrangell-St. Elias is partly due to its large size, to the three climatic zones it covers (maritime, transitional and inland), to the wide variety of morphologies and to the large and complex topographical relief found within its borders. Some regions of the park have a strong coastal influence, most notably in the Chugach-St. Elias and the Southern Wrangell Mountains. The extension of the Pleistocene glaciation had an important effect on the distribution and composition of the park’s flora, most of which was frozen over during the last glaciation.
A recent inventory of the park’s flora indicates that there are 936 species of vascular plants. The sedge family has the largest number of species (111) in the park, followed by the grass family (79), the sunflower family (86) and the mustard family (74). There are 13 tree species, 27 willow species and 43 introduced species in the park. The park also has 327 documented non-vascular plants including 31 liverwort species, 131 lichen species, and 165 moss species.
Biologists and ecologists keep track of the plant species within the park. They are documented in a database called NPpecies.

Fauna –
The wildlife of the Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve is as rich as its geology.
With over 20,000 square miles of boreal spruce forest, moss, lakes, rivers, ocean shores, alder and willow groves, alpine meadows, glaciers, and glacial barren, Wrangell-St. Elias offers a rich habitat for many birds.
Long summer days, wide open spaces, and plenty of food attract long-distance migratory species, through the Copper River Valley and along the rugged coastline every spring. Many remain to nest. Trumpeter swans, Canada geese, and a host of other water and shorebirds start arriving in late April even before the snow melts. In early May, the park’s forests are enlivened by birdsong as blackcaps and thrushes arrive and quickly establish nesting grounds and find mates. In August, many birds are already starting their long return to the southern wintering grounds.
Common birds of the park’s vast interior include willow and ptarmigan; ptarmigan; great horned owls, borealis and northern hawks; woodpeckers such as the northern trembler and the hairy woodpecker; gray jay; common crow; black-billed magpie; hermit thrush; American robin; king with ruby ​​crown; Wilson’s yellow rump and blackcap; white crowned sparrow and dark-eyed rush.
As the days get shorter and the frigid winter of the interior of Alaska arrives, only the most hardy 34 species remain.
The species of fish are also innumerable.
This is because there are two large watersheds within the boundaries of Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Preserve: the Copper River drainage that flows into the Gulf of Alaska and the Yukon River drainage that flows into the Bering Sea.
Mostly in Wrangell-St. Elias we find similar species in every watershed except: northern pike which is native to the Yukon River drainage but not the Copper River drainage, rainbow trout and rainbow trout are indigenous to the Copper River watershed but not the Yukon, and are not Salmon species have been found in the Yukon River drainage portion of the park or reserve. Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss, but are called rainbows when they remain in a freshwater system for life and rainbow trout when they are anadromous and migrate between fresh and salt water like salmon. “Steelheads” grow much larger than “rainbows”.
For this reason, the Elias National Park offers many opportunities. Arctic grayling, dolly varden, lake trout, rainbow trout, whitefish, sockeye salmon, coho salmon and chinook salmon are widespread. Northern pike, cutthroat trout, chum salmon and pink salmon are also available in select areas. Local residents catch burbot, lake trout, rainbow trout, and whitefish through the ice in winter.
Copper River salmon are some of the best salmon on the market today. Typically Alaska’s first commercially caught salmon each year, this robust fish is priced high in restaurants across the nation. Over a million Copper River salmon are traded in a few years. While commercial salmon fishing takes place outside the park near the river mouth, many of these fish have originated within the Park / Preserve and are attempting to return to their birth streams or lakes to spawn. In addition to providing subsistence and sport fishing, salmon plays an important role in the natural ecosystem.
Many Alaskan waterways and lakes are relatively nutrient-poor. Adult salmon, returning from the sea, carry rich ocean nutrients with them. The algae utilize this boost in nitrogen and phosphorus and, in turn, provide food for the zooplankton and aquatic insects that eventually feed the juvenile salmon which continues the cycle. Fishing has the potential to overload salmon populations and can reduce these important ocean nutrients within the aquatic ecosystem.
In Alaska, salmon fisheries are managed under the Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy which states that “salmon fisheries must be managed to allow for the escape of salmon needed to conserve and sustain potential salmon production and maintain normal functioning.” ecosystem “.
The Copper River is world famous for the health of its salmon and the taste of its fish. This is the result of careful monitoring to ensure salmon numbers large enough to reproduce and replenish the population. Through cooperation we hope to keep these amazing fish forever.
Finally the mammals.
Wrangell-St. Elias is home to many mammal species and contains one of the largest concentrations of sheep from North America: approximately 13,000 sheep in excellent habitat. Look for them along the rocky ridges and mountain sides. Moose are often seen near willow swamps and lakes. Other large mammal species include mountain goats, caribou, wolves, and two herds of transplanted bison.
One of the things that makes Alaska so special is that all three North American bear species thrive here. There is a chance you may be lucky enough to see a bear. But even if you don’t, you’ll never be far from one, because Alaska is the country of bears!
Grizzly / brown bears are found from the islands of southeastern Alaska to the Arctic. Brown bears inhabit most of Alaska’s forests and coastal areas. Black bears also inhabit most of Alaska’s forests but do not inhabit the Seward Peninsula or north of the Brooks Range. Polar bears frequent the pack ice and tundra of Alaska’s far north and west.
Bears are curious, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals, but excessive fear of bears can endanger both bears and people. Many bears are killed every year by people who are afraid of them. Respecting bears and learning proper behavior in their territory will help so that if you encounter a bear, none of you will suffer unnecessarily from the experience.
Most bears tend to avoid people. In most cases, if you give a bear the opportunity to avoid you, it will. Many bears live in Alaska and many people love the outdoors, but surprisingly few people see bears. Only a small percentage of those few are ever threatened by a bear. A study by the state department of epidemiology showed that more people are attacked by dogs than by bears.
Black bears and brown bears (grizzlies) are found throughout the park and are preserved. Grizzlies are yellowish brown to black and some have white tipped hair, giving them a grizzled appearance. The height of the bears at the shoulders varies from about 1.4 meters up to 2.1 meters and they weigh between 135 and 680 kg.
When standing they can measure up to 2.7 meters in height. They have a large hump of muscle above their shoulders that helps them unearth one of their favorite foods … ground squirrels. Other foods vary according to the season and include herbs, roots, berries, nuts, insects, salmon, rodents, and sometimes large mammals (moose, caribou, Dall sheep). Brown bears can hide very well in the low bush along the hillsides. Bears are actively hunted throughout Alaska and tend to be shy around people, but will aggressively defend their young or their food if caught or approached too closely. They have an excellent sense of smell, good hearing, and are extremely powerful. They are naturally curious and care must be taken when in their presence. Before entering the backcountry, know how to be “bear aware”.
Small mammals found in the park and reserve include lynxes, wolverines, beavers, stone martens, porcupines, foxes, coyotes, marmots, river otters, ground squirrels, pikas, and voles.
The coastal areas of the park are habitats for marine mammals, including sea lions, seals, sea otters, porpoises, and whales.

Guido Bissanti

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