Social-Ecological Dynamics

Interior Alaska has few roads and a scattering of human settlements with only one urban center of moderate size, Fairbanks and the North Star Borough (pop size ~101,000). Rural settlements fall into two categories, those located on the road system, and smaller villages off the road system. Off-road rural villages are primarily situated on rivers and populated by Athabaskan Indians. On-the-road communities have more mixed ethnicity.

Harvestable resources are particularly important to all rural communities for food security and cultural identity associated with subsistence. These same resources are also of value to many urban residents who harvest wildlife and fish for food and recreation. Moose, caribou, salmon, and waterfowl are particularly important, as is timber as a source of fuelwood. The diversity of human settlements and their respective cultural perspectives on harvesting resources makes for significant contrasts in social-ecological conditions. For example, annual per capita harvest of wildlife in the Fairbanks area is ~10 kg whereas harvest by villagers of rural Interior Alaska is 206 kg. This contrast creates challenges for policy makers when allocating resources for harvesting, regulating access to hunting grounds and harvesting seasons, and managing land-use changes that potentially alter ecosystems, demographics, and economic systems. The complexity of changes in climate and disturbance regimes to the landscape adds to the challenge of resource management. For example, the increase in fire frequency alters wildlife habitat and timber resources and creates smoke conditions that have human health implications. The degradation of permafrost and timing of precipitation affects river levels, hinders travel and access to hunting grounds, and affects subsistence species in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. BNZ LTER social-ecological systems research builds on our past focus on select study communities of interior Alaska to examine contrasting conditions of the region with comparative studies to consider both the effects of changes on different types of communities as well as communities’ respective capacity to adapt and or transform in the face of these changes.

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