On August 30-31st, the Georgetown Tribal Council and ANTHC Conducted the second meeting of the Middle Kuskokwim Region’s Climate Adaptation Assessment. 12 representatives from 8 communities attended, including: Sleetmute, Napaimute, Georgetown, Aniak, Crooked Creek, Red Devil and Upper & Lower Kalskag. We gathered to discuss the environmental changes that the Kuskokwim River is predicted to experience based on current climate change models and what can be done to adapt to and mitigate its effects. The first day of the meeting had two goals; to develop an understanding of the current and predicted environmental impacts of climate change specific to Alaska and the middle Kuskokwim River, and team building exercises to help the group work as a community. The second day of the meeting was dedicated to discussing and prioritizing climate related issues and adaptation focus areas.
The first presentation of the day on the 30th was a lecture prepared by Dr. Jeremy Littel, a US Geological Survey climate scientist, and was presented by Dr. Stephen Gray, the director of the Alaskan Climate Adaption Science Center. Dr. Gray’s presentation showed Alaska’s predicted future climate based on two greenhouse gas emission models. One where greenhouse gas emissions remain at the same level we see today with no further increases, and another where greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise based on current emissions rates. Both scenarios predicted significant increases to temperature, permafrost loss, and winter rainfall by 2050. These environmental changes threaten the ability of native vegetation and wildlife to thrive in areas of Alaska where they have been traditionally found. In addition, the loss of permafrost and reduced snowpack in the winter is predicted to lead to drier summers and increase the potential for wildfires, despite increased precipitation. This lecture was given additional context by the following presentation, from Mark Leary, the director of development and operations for the Native Village of Napaimute. Mark’s presentation outlined the work he does on the Kuskokwim River ice road. Among the many things that Mark does to maintain the ice road, he also acts as a local environmental observer, and in his experience he has observed that ice on the river is not becoming as thick as it has in the past, break-up season is starting earlier in the spring, and break up is starting from the lower river as opposed to beginning from the upper river. As a result, travel on the river during winter has become more dangerous, particularly on unmaintained sections that are commonly used for shortcuts along the ice road.
After the informative presentations of the morning there were two more presentations that focused on team building and community values. Maria Crouch, the behavioral Health Program Manager at ANTHC gave a presentation about how the environmental impact of climate change can lead to personal impacts on families and mental health. Oxcenia O’Domin, the Tribal Environmental Program Administrator, led the final discussion and exercise for the day. Oxcenia’s exercise was designed to identify our own individual values and she encouraged the group to discuss how our values relate to community values, how to gain more community participation and how our personal values relate to traditional values of Alaska. These presentations helped us come together and understand what issues we would need to consider for the second day of the meeting which was dedicated to addressing climate related impacts on the environmental and health and well-being of the people of the Middle Kuskokwim River.
The scientific, informative and team building presentations of the first day of the meeting helped us come together and work towards the goal of identifying and prioritizing current and future impacts of climate change on the Middle Kuskokwim River. On the second day of the meeting, August 31st, we condensed 12 local environmental isssues into 5 adaptation focus areas. Oxcenia O’Domin and Erica Lujan, from the Community Environmental Health Department at ANTHC, facilitated the discussions that led the community leaders from the Middle Kuskokwim River to decide on the five adaptation focus areas to ensure that their communities remain healthy for future generations. The five focus areas that the group decided on are: Reconnecting to the natural world, ensuring sustainable populations of sources of traditional foods, ensuring safer ground transportation, reducing the cost of fuel and monitoring air quality. These adaptation focus areas were chosen to help improve the quality of life and preserve the environment.
In addition to identifying these goals we outlined projects, resources equipment and funding partners necessary to the accomplishment of these goals. Some of the projects pitched to adapt the communities of the Kuskokwim were things like starting a fuel consortium to reduce the cost of fuel, encourage the recruitment of more biologists from rural communities by seeking funds for scholarships, and revitalizing overland trails for safer travel during the winter.
In the next climate adaptation meeting, tentatively scheduled for spring 2020, community leaders will begin to implement the adaptation strategies discussed during this meeting in coordination with state agencies. ANTHC will also develop an online resource called “AK Healthy Community” to retain all project data and information from these adaptation planning meetings. With the help of ANTHC and participation of community members like you, we can prepare and adapt to the environmental and social that climate change is likely to cause in the coming decades.
Sam Bundy, Native Village of Georgetown