Friday, August 7, 2009 - 8:30 AM

SYMP 24-2: CANCELLED - Human resilience in a changing Arctic: Multiple forces, their interactions, and implications

Gary P. Kofinas1, T. Scott Rupp1, and F. Stuart Chapin2. (1) University of Alaska, Fairbanks, (2) University of Alaska

The subsistence-cash economy of high latitude indigenous communities is part of a coupled social-ecological system in which there is a high human dependence on harvesting wild food. In arctic Alaska, Iñupiat Eskimo have maintained vibrant traditional livelihoods while engaging actively in the globalized cash economy.  Subsistence has involved participation in a seasonal round by harvesting a suite of species  -- walrus, bowhead, seals, caribou, fish, waterfowl, and berries.  The cost of hunting and fishing is subsidized with revenues directly and indirectly derived from oil production. Today’s rapid rates of climate warming, industrial development, economic change and their interaction raise questions about the extent to which ecosystem services to villages will be affected. 
Some changes present challenges to villagers and others are opportunities.  Changes in sea ice have altered some marine mammals’ distribution and movements as well as hunters’ ability to travel safely while harvesting. Fishers are finding a greater abundance of salmonids in their nets. Caribou hunters are having difficultly accessing hunting grounds in the spring season because of degraded snowpack conditions.  2008-9 increases in fuel costs stressed these systems, with hunters in some villages paying greater than 10 dollars a gallon for gas, higher prices for store bought foods, and more for air transportation. Ironically, revenues from dividends to hunters increase with higher oil costs.  We suggest that understanding the full implications of ecological change requires extending analyses beyond the assessment of ecosystem services to evaluating with depth the capacity of village and regional institutions to adapt and transform. The cultural systems of the modern-day Iñupiat, for example, include institutions for sharing that buffer again household harvest shortfalls, contribute to social cohesion, and perpetuate subsistence traditions. How well can traditional and state institutions serve as sources of resilience in the future?  Multiple forces of change add difficulty in our efforts to assess resilience.  In this paper we draw on on-going studies conducted with the two communities  in Alaska to explore these questions.