The Galapagos of the North
The city limits of the City of Saint Paul consist of the entirety of Saint Paul Island and three geographical miles beyond the island into the Bering Sea. The island is accessible only by sea and air. The City was incorporated in 1971 under the laws of the State of Alaska and became a Second Class City, thereby assuming the responsibility and authority to provide public services from the United States government. Within the City is a paved runway, 6,500’ in length and 200’ wide, which is owned and maintained by the State of Alaska. Peninsula Airways (PenAir) provides regularly scheduled passenger and mail flights from Anchorage. Most equipment, supplies and freight arrive by vessels from Seattle, Washington or Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Also located within the City are the local offices for Tanadgusix Village Corporation, the Aleut Community of Saint Paul Island ( federally recognized Tribe), Trident (an onshore fish processing plant), National Weather Service Station, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Saint Paul Island is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, about 44 square miles in area and is home to approximately 480 people. Fishing is the primary source of economic activity, yielding primarily Opilio crab and halibut, both of which are processed on the island. St. Paul has been described as the “Galapagos of the North,” due to the yearly migration of over 211 bird species and 800,000 northern fur seals. The Bering Sea location results in cool weather year-round and a narrow range of mean temperatures varying from 19 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Average precipitation is 25 inches and snowfall is 56 inches. Heavy fog is common during the summer months. Known more descriptively as the Seal Islands, the Pribilofs are the historic breeding grounds of the world's largest population of northern fur seals.
During the period 1870-1984, the United States government operated and improved upon a commercial sealing industry that had been initiated during the Russian period (1786-1867). The government's sealing industry dominated much of the island's activities and exerted pressure on traditional Native culture and economics in a somewhat vain attempt to westernize the community. The industry collapsed in the mid 1980's, soon after the government withdrew from its administration of the two inhabited islands, St. Paul and St. George. While several federal agencies administered the Seal Islands, the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was the last managing agency of St. Paul and St. George islands. NOAA's Pribilof Project Office commenced environmental restoration activities in earnest on the Seal Islands in 1999. Activities included landfill closures, debris removal, several historic building demolitions and renovations, and cleaning petroleum contaminated soil and groundwater at more than 100 sites. NOAA completed restoration under state of Alaska oversight in 2008.
The Pribilof Islands support a large population of birds, mammals, fish, and invertebrates. The pribilofs are the primary breeding ground for the northern fur seal, where about two thirds of the world’s population (1.3 to 1.4 million) migrates annually. More than a quarter of a million seabirds nest on St. Paul Island each year, mainly along the coastal cliffs. The uplands are inhabited by song birds, white and blue foxes, and an introduced herd of approximately 300 reindeer. The island is treeless and covered with grass, sedges, and wildflowers. The eastern Bering Shelf could produce an annual harvest of over three billion pounds of marine products.