Colville River Special Area: Arctic River of Raptors

The Colville River flows through much of the Brooks Range. Alaska’s largest Arctic River is home to 20 fish species. Known as an internationally-recognized area for nesting birds of prey, the Colville River’s bluffs provide significant nesting habitat for raptors such as Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon and Golden Eagle. The river’s delta is a haul-out area for spotted seals, and home to 68 regularly breeding bird species and 22 over-wintering fish species. More than 100 pairs of Arctic peregrines nest along the Colville and its tributaries.

The Colville River Special Area (CRSA) follows the river corridor for more than 300 miles, and covers a little over 2.4 million acres. The CRSA was included in 1977 as one of the first four special areas established in the Reserve.

The bluffs along the Colville River contain the world’s most extensive polar-region collection of dinosaur and other fossils. Over time, the Colville has cut down through tundra and permafrost into 70 million-year-old bedrock from the Cretaceous period. Remains of polar dinosaurs were first discovered along the Colville in 1961 by geologist Robert Liscomb. The Liscomb Bonebed is just one of several fossil-rich layers in the Reserve.

The entire Colville River has been proposed to be a National Wild and Scenic River, as have its tributaries, the Nigu and Etivluk Rivers. The scenic landscapes surrounding each of these magnificent rivers have exceptional river-running and backpacking potential. Several national landmarks have also been proposed within the Colville Special Area.

Read more about the Colville river in On Arctic Ground, including a profile of the special area by Jeff Fair, “Arctic River of Raptors: Colville River Special Area,” and an essay about Arctic dinosaurs from paleontologists Jack Horner and Patrick Druckenmiller.

Additional information provided by Alaska Wilderness League.