IAB Research Project Description

Community Adaptation to Climate Change in Interior Alaska: A workshop to Develop Adaptation Options and Sustain Ecosystem Services

Wildfire in an Alaska boreal forest. Credit: F. Stuart (Terry) Chapin III

Any and all uses of these images must include photographer credit.

The project supports a community workshop to develop a sustainable landscape conservation plan for a rural Alaska Athabascan community (Huslia). The workshop serves as proof-of-concept of a broader plan for Interior Alaska indigenous communities to reduce their vulnerability due to (1) climate-driven fire, which threatens communities and reduces subsistence opportunities, and (2) rising fuel prices, in part due to a climate-driven drop in river level that prevents barges from reaching road-less communities.

The workshop is a test of the feasibility of developing community-based conservation plans that trigger transformations from downward spirals of vulnerability to upward spirals of resilience at times where crisis makes radical transformation acceptable to communities.

We focus on Interior Alaska, where the direct and indirect effects of climate change on rural indigenous communities are well documented and more pronounced than in most places in the world.

Wildfire has doubled in areal extent in western North America in the last 40 years in response to climate warming. Athabascan Indians of Interior Alaska, who used to hunt as small mobile bands, were able to adjust their hunting territories when wildfires occurred. Now people live in permanent communities, fixed in place by airports, schools, and other infrastructure. When a wildfire occurs close to their community, it is 10-20 years (a generation) before habitat again becomes suitable for moose and 80 years (4 generations) before it becomes suitable for caribou.

Deterioration of river ice in a warming climate reduces the safety of winter travel to distant hunting locations along river corridors, and low river levels in summer now make barge travel to villages intermittent to impossible, so food, fuel, equipment, and supplies must be delivered by air to these road-less communities at considerable expense. Village fuel prices are approximately twice as high as in road-accessible towns like Fairbanks, and incomes are 2-3-fold lower than in Fairbanks.

Leaders in these communities have asked us how climate and fire are likely to change in the future so they have a more informed basis for developing adaptation strategies.

Project Funding

Christensen Foundation
1 Oct 2007 – 30 Sep 2008
IAB Proposal #08-021
UAF Grant #G4531
IAB Project #116

Media Contact

Marie Thoms
Communications/Web Manager
Institute of Arctic Biology
302A Irving I
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000
email: methoms@alaska.edu
phone: 907.474.7412