Friday, July 29, 2016

Climate change already impacting remote Alaskan towns that rely on hunting to survive winters

Climate change is already affecting rural remote towns in Alaska that rely on stocking up on food for long, harsh winters, Clare Leschin-Hoar reports for NPR. "Savoonga is a small community of about 650 residents that sits on the northern edge of St. Lawrence Island, 164 miles west of Nome, in the Bering Sea. It is among the first U.S. communities to experience the effects of climate change firsthand."

As a result of climate change, "Warmer winters and changing ice conditions meant hunters were unable to bag the Pacific walrus the Savoonga residents traditionally relied on as a key food source," Leschin-Hoar writes. "Three years ago, the situation became so dire, the governor declared the island an economic disaster to help loosen assistance funds. The debate here isn't over whether climate change is happening. For these rural communities, the question is whether they can continue to survive there."

St. Lawrence Island is the northernmost island on the map.
According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap (right) food insecurity rates for the state hover at 14.4 percent, just above the national rate of 14 percent, Leschin-Hoar writes. "But what makes the situation in Alaska different from many other states is its residents' dependence on subsistence hunting, especially those who live in remote communities. In 2012, the state estimated that rural residents harvested a whopping 295 pounds of wild foods per person—including fish, whale, seals, sea lions, moose, caribou, birds and wild plants from berries to kelp."

Cara Durr, director of public engagement for Food Bank of Alaska, told Leschin-Hoar."In places like Savoonga, suddenly you've got an 80 percent reduction in the amount of food you're used to having. There aren't a lot of jobs on these islands, and to say to people they now have to go to the grocery store—it's just out of reach for a lot of these people. And there are hundreds of communities like this. You can't just snap your fingers and send more food. It's incredibly expensive to ship food out there."

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