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Impact of fuel costs on high-latitude subsistence activities

Todd Brinkman, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Karonhiakta’tie B. Maracle, Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments
James Kelly, Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments
Michelle Vandyke, Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments
Andrew Firmin, Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments
Anna Springsteen, Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, University of Alaska Fairbanks


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Most rural residents in Arctic communities rely on motorized transportation to hunt, fish, trap, and gather subsistence resources. Although these technologies have created advantages, one significant disadvantage is that peoples’ ability to meet their nutritional and cultural needs now depends on consistent opportunities for wage employment and availability of affordable fuel. Recent qualitative research suggested that rising fuel prices have disrupted subsistence lifestyles in the Arctic. Our objectives were to collaborate with subsistence users in rural Alaskan communities to quantify how rising fuel costs have impacted subsistence activities and explore ways local residents may adapt to the trajectory of change. We conducted interviews with 178 subsistence harvesters in 8 communities. During the last 10 years, 81% of the harvesters reduced the distance they traveled for subsistence and 89% reduced the number of subsistence trips they took because of gasoline costs. During the last 10 years, the median distance traveled to perform subsistence decreased by 60%, and the median annual number of trips taken to perform subsistence decreased by 75%. The change in subsistence activity was similar across and within communities. Eighty-five percent of the people interviewed reported that they were making sacrifices with serious consequences, such as putting off paying monthly bills, to buy gasoline for subsistence activities. To adapt to high gasoline prices, most participants said that they are using more efficient modes of transportation (69%), followed by more sharing of gasoline costs with family and friends (37%), and conducting more multipurpose subsistence trips (20%). With subsistence practices being critical to food security and cultural identity in the Arctic, our results suggest that unaffordable fuel has threatened social resilience. Because global markets drive gasoline prices, we suggest that future research focus on the effectiveness of adaptation options that build resilience into subsistence systems.

Key words

adaptation; Alaska; gasoline; interviews; social resilience; subsistence

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087