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Examining Barriers and Opportunities for Sustainable Adaptation to Climate Change in Interior Alaska

Created: 12/05/2013 - Updated: 8/14/2019

Abstract

Human adaptation to climate change is comprised of “adjustments” in response to (or anticipation of) climatic impacts. Adaptation does not necessarily imply favorable or equitable change, nor does it automatically imply sustainable use of ecosystems. “Sustainable adaptation” in this case implies strategic, collective action to respond to or anticipate harmful climate change to reduce disruption to key resource flows and adverse effects on general well-being. This research examined social-ecological system responses to recent warming trends in the remote northwest region of Interior Alaska using a unique vulnerability and adaptive capacity assessment (VA) approach that integrated indigenous observations and understanding of climate (IC) with western social and natural sciences. The study found that Alaska Native communities that were historically highly mobile and flexible across the landscape for subsistence hunting are increasingly restricted by the institutional rigidity of the regulatory system for wildlife and subsistence management. This has resulted in negative impacts to game harvest access and success threatening food security and community well-being. This suggests that policies limiting the ability of natural resource-dependent societies to be flexible, diversify, or innovate can threaten livelihoods and exacerbate vulnerability. Nevertheless, opportunities for sustainable adaptation exist where wildlife management is adaptive and includes an understanding of and response to climate variability and slow-onset climate change with the human dimensions of subsistence hunting for more effective “in-season” management.

Published On

Friday, July 22, 2011

Keywords

Sector Addressed: 
Research
Target Climate Changes and Impacts: 
Air temperature
Culture / communities
Flow patterns
Habitat extent
Phenological shifts
Precipitation
Range shifts
Species of concern
Water supply
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy: 
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Climate Type: 
Subpolar
Sociopolitical Setting: 
Rural

Related Resources

Sector Addressed: 
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Development (socioeconomic)
Policy
Research
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Wildlife
Summary: 

Koyukon Elders of Alaska’s Interior observe that “cold weather is growing old” and recent warming is contributing to a world out of balance. Alaska is among the most rapidly warming places globally, with the Interior experiencing the most pronounced warming statewide, and with significant regional-scale ecosystem services disruptions affecting subsistence hunting and harvest success.

Anatomy of a Closing Window: Vulnerability to Changing Seasonality in Interior Alaska

Photo attributed to Weiler Greg, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This photo has been released into the public domain. 

Document
Sector Addressed: 
Conservation / Restoration
Research
Wildlife