Interior Alaska has few roads and scattered human settlements with only one urban center, Fairbanks and the North Star Borough (population ~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, and these same resources are also of value to many urban residents. Moose, caribou, salmon, waterfowl, and timber are particularly important. 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. The complexity of changes in climate and disturbance adds to the challenge of resource management, such as increasing fire frequency that alters wildlife habitat and timber resources. BNZ LTER social-ecological systems research builds on our past work that examined contrasting conditions of the region along with comparative studies to consider the effects of changes on different types of communities and their respective capacity to adapt and or transform in the face of these changes.