Researchers examine climate change impacts on Alaska hunters

BETHEL — A University of Alaska Fairbanks study says climate change is having significant impacts on subsistence hunting and travel in communities across Alaska.

Assistant professor Todd Brinkman led a team of researchers who collected data and gathered information from residents in four Alaska villages: Fort Yukon, Venetie, Wainwright and Kaktovik. Brinkman said the residents reported challenges in accessing subsistence resources brought on by changing weather patterns starting in 2010, KYUK-AM reported.

According to the study, 60 percent of the 47 relationships identified between the availability of subsistence resources and climate change focused on hunter access.

“We often make the assumption that if there’s plenty of fish and game in the area, that hunting opportunities are going to be good. But our research demonstrated that even if local populations are healthy and plentiful, if people can’t get out there to them then the resource isn’t available to them,” said Brinkman.

Brinkman said many families have struggled to adapt to the challenges, which include eroding riverbanks, less snow and river ice breaking up early. Many people are now using all-terrain vehicles instead of snow machines to get around due to the lack of snow.

“What was striking was that all the communities were in agreement that these changes are having a significant impact on their ability to travel across the land. So it wasn’t isolated to any one community, it wasn’t isolated to any one type of subsistence resource, it was affecting all of them,” Brinkman said.

Mark Leary, who lives in Napaimute along the northern bank of the Kuskokwim River, said the warmer weather in recent winters has made it difficult for hunters to catch goose and duck.

“The best hunting, in my experience, for birds has been when they first come and you could still go by snow machine. But it’s been so thawed out all over, that the birds are more spread out and we can’t go by snow machine,” Leary said. “Like last year the ice went out and the birds weren’t even here. You know, it’s like ‘What do we do now?’”

Leary said he had to use a truck, snow machine and boat all “in one month” because of the rapid warming last spring.

The UAF researchers heard from residents in the four communities who shared some of the same hunting and travel concerns.

Brinkman’s team is now working with NASA to get insight into how hunters’ are being affected by limited access to resources. They are using GPS-equipped cameras to collect data and match it with imagery taken from space to better understand climate change.

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