Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy: “Climate-Driven Interactions among Hunters, Wildlife, Habitat”

Dr. Todd Brinkman, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, presented three factors to consider about “Climate-Driven Changes in Interactions among Hunters, Wildlife, and Habitat” during this webinar: 1) Community perceptions of impacts of climate on availability of subsistence resources, 2) take-home messages, and 3) adaptation and research.

Local and elder knowledge in Alaska has helped researchers confirm the land, water, and ecosystem is changing every year due to nearly 40 years of consistent Arctic warming.

The radical shrinkage of sea ice, for example, has drastically altered subsistence whaling in northern Alaska.  North Slope whaling captains and crew have reported years that because ice strength and quality has degenerated so much, they now have to travel further to find suitable ice for haul-outs.

Interior hunters continue to struggle with drought conditions that have dried up traditionally navigable creeks and have fed more forest fires, resulting in trail loss and vegetation regrowth.  Because of the changing climate, hunters are traversing altered and longer routes to access hunting grounds. The biggest travel inhibitor is increased fuel consumption, raising hunting costs to untenable levels.

On the subject of Subsistence Adaptation, Dr. Brinkman said some hunters have found that the altered ecosystems drove game away from traditional hunting grounds.  Because individuals may not be able to absorb the fuel costs, hunters say they have doubled up parties, and are saving resources to go on fewer hunts.

Citing a subsistence hunters’ survey, Dr. Brinkman said access is a crucial component for taking subsistence resources.  On top of the current high cost of hunting expeditions, the loss of access due to river erosion, wildfires, trail loss, major storms, sea ice reduction, fewer haul-out locations, drought conditions and other factors have reduced hunting by 42 percent.

Dr. Brinkman found subsistence hunters can and have altered their hunting schedules, the frequency and method of hunts, and the grounds on which they hunt for game.  Institutions such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Bureau of Land Management can allow flexibility in permitting and seasons.

Dr. Brinkman said subsistence hunters can successfully adapt to the changing climate if they collectively notify the management agencies about their difficulties in accessing game.  Agencies, in turn, can verify conditions and accommodate subsistence hunts by extending seasons in certain units because of extenuating weather, river, and land conditions.

UAF has also provided hunters with GPS units to map the changing conditions in order to assist research efforts.

The slides for Dr. Brinkman’s presentation can be found here.