Wrangel St. Elias National Park

Ickert-Bond Lab: systematics meets ecology, paleontology, and genomics

As the largest United States National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (WRST) equals six WRSTYellowstones, with numerous large peaks and glaciers.  Four major mountain ranges meet in the park (the Wrangells, the Chugach, the Saint Elias Mountains eastern end of the Alaska Range-mapped as the Nutzotin and Mentasta mountains) which include nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States.  These impressive mountain ranges offer a spectacular backdrop for amazing displays of moving clouds, sunsets and storms rolling in.

Not only are the Wrangells of impressive natural beauty, they are rich in both flora and fauna. Of the  approximately 1535 plant species found in Alaska, 54% are found in WRST and and 69% of the Yukon Territory flora (Cook and Roland, 2002). The high diversity of sub-arctic plant communities in Wrangell-St. Elias is due in part to its large size, the three climatic zones it covers (maritime, transitional and interior), the wide variety of landforms, and the extensive and complex topographic relief found within its boundaries.

We drove from Fairbanks to Glennallen and followed the Copper River to Slana and then the Nabesna Road into the Nutzotin Mountains, part of the Chugach Mountains, and explored the Five-mile creek trails. Then we drove to McCarthy and chartered a small prop plane to take us into the St. Elias Mountains.  The pilot dropped us off at Nicolai Ridge (part of the Wrangell Mountains) in very windy condition, telling us he was not sure he could pick us up again or not.  The first night on the ridge was very stressfull, it felt like our tent was flattened to the ground several times from very strong winds rising up the ridge.  The next morning we were lucky and condition were acceptable for Wrangell Air to pick us up and take us off the mountain.

On the dry tundra slopes of Nicolai Ridge at 1280 m, we encountered several populations of Huddleson’s Locoweed (Oxytropis huddelsonii). This Alaska-Yukon endemic is rare in Alaska (G3 S2S3). Additional rare taxa we encountered include Pale Poppy (Papaver alboroseum), which is an amphiberingian arctic-alpine poppy also rare in Alaska (G3G4 S3) with a distribution known now to be centered on WRST and the coastal mountains near Anchorage. We also collected sickle milk-vetch (Astragalus nutzotinensis) named after the Nutzotin Mountains within WRST, this species is easily distinguished from other Astragalus species due to the characteristic fruit shape. Yet another Alaska-Yukon endemic.

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