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