Climate Adaptation and Action Plan for the Norton Bay Watershed, Alaska

This plan was developed by the Norton Bay Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (NBITWC) to address climate stressors, risks, and adaptation opportunities for tribal villages in the Norton Bay. NBITWC conducts research, education, and advocacy to protect and restore water resources toward tribal interests. The Council represents four Inupiat Eskimo native villages in the Bay, which is located within the Seward Peninsula in northwestern Alaska. The plan includes an economic analysis and forest and water resources assessments, focusing on the restoration of traditional knowledge as a primary adaptation strategy. In addition to climate change risks, the plan discusses non-climate stressors that threaten the Watershed such as mining activities and road development.

The Norton Bay villages pursue a subsistence lifestyle through hunting, fishing, gathering and other natural resource activities. This lifestyle is supplemented by secondary work that provides cash payments used toward goods purchased monetarily, such as gasoline and heating oil. Directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihood, climate change may disproportionately impact these villages. For example, salmon, which are vulnerable to low flow stream conditions, are integral not only to ecosystem integrity but to supporting the Inupiat way of life.

In Alaska, the average annual temperature has increased at a rate twice as fast as that of the lower 48 states, resulting in a longer snow-free season, lake reduction and declining spruce growth. Melting permafrost poses infrastructure challenges, evidenced by sinking homes and buckling roads. Communities along Bering Strait coast and Norton Sound are vulnerable to coastal flooding and beach erosion from autumn sea storms. The Bay’s spruce forests are at risk of beetle infestations and increased forest fire frequency. Meanwhile, increases in air temperature are altering hydrologic conditions of Alaska’s freshwater lakes, rivers and wetlands. These resources are further threatened by non-climate activities, such as water diversion that results from mining, and reduced forest integrity from road development. Conversely, the report identifies an extended growing season as a potential advantage of climate change.

The adaptation plan proposes the following recommendations, amongst others:

  • Obtain funding for emergency preparedness and/or relocation of villages most impacted by coastal flooding and erosion
  • Protect subsistence resources throughout the Watershed by applying traditional environmental knowledge and relevant federal, state, tribal and international laws
  • Increase climate change adaptation education and outreach to native villagers
  • Improve economic conditions through strategies such as cataloguing best practices and facilitating information exchanges

NBITWC is leading plan implementation in partnership with the native villages.

Climate Solution University’s Forest and Water Strategies program, which empowers rural, underserved communities toward climate adaptation and resilience, provided guidance in the planning process.  

Publication Date: December 2013

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Emily Murray

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  • Adaptation plan

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