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Integrating local knowledge and science: economic consequences of driftwood harvest in a changing climate

Chas E Jones, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Knut Kielland, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Larry D Hinzman, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks
William S Schneider, Oral History Department, University of Alaska Fairbanks


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The integration of local knowledge and science represents an opportunity to enhance the understanding of interrelations among climate, hydrology, and socioeconomic systems while providing mutual benefits to scientists and rural communities. Insight from rural Alaskans helped to identify a social-ecological threshold used to model potential driftwood harvest from the Yukon River. Information from residents of Tanana, Alaska, was combined with scientific data to model driftwood harvest rates. Modeling results estimated that between 1980 and 2010, hydrologic factors alone were responsible for a 29% decrease in the annual wood harvest, which approximately balanced a 23% reduction in wood demand because of a decline in number of households. The community’s installation of wood-fired boilers in 2007 created a threshold increase (76%) in wood demand that is not met by driftwood harvest. Modeling analyses of numerous climatic scenarios illustrated that increases in hydrologic variability would decrease the reliability of future driftwood harvest. Economic analyses demonstrated that increased climatic variability could have serious economic consequences for subsistence users while demanding more of their time. Lost time is important because it reduces their availability for performing other subsistence activities and learning to adapt to climate-related challenges. Our research may benefit communities by providing a tool that can be used to predict the timing and duration of driftwood runs. Information gathered from discussions with local stakeholders provided critical information for model development and thus provided a better understanding of regional social-ecological dynamics. Our research also illustrates the potential for regional-scale adaptations to limit the social-ecological impacts of environmental change, while providing economic opportunities and energy independence that reduce their vulnerability to variations in climate.

Key words

biomass; climate; driftwood; economics; flood; hydrology; large woody debris; local knowledge; participatory research; social-ecological model; threshold

Copyright © 2015 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