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USGS report: More Native dialogue needed to address science gaps, including subsistence impacts

June 23rd, 2011 | Alex DeMarban Print this article   Email this article  

The need for more traditional knowledge in Arctic science receives plenty of attention in a new report that highlights gaps in data related to proposed oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf in Alaska.

"There is a need for additional science dialogue with Native communities to more comprehensively incorporate local traditional knowledge into decisions," reads a fact sheet released with the U.S. Geological Survey report.

The 278-page report itself spends a great deal of time calling for more comprehensive and collaborative studies that address potential changes in a broad way.

Traditional knowledge - in this case local information from Alaska Natives, often with a historical basis - should be part of those studies.

"It is critical that this cumulative impact information synthesis and evaluation include local traditional knowledge," the report notes in its conclusion chapter. "The indigenous, subsistence community is extremely knowledgeable about the environment, ecosystem, and changing conditions of the Arctic. Local traditional knowledge is a critical resource and should be incorporated into all of the ... syntheses and databases described throughout this report."

The report also says that more data is needed to determine threats to Native subsistence practices from oil and gas exploration and other factors.

"The subsistence community and culture are an essential component of the Arctic and all of the issues studied in this report will have an impact on these people and their way of life," the report notes.

"To predict with any degree of accuracy the future of Arctic subsistence, with or without energy exploration and development, will require a greater understanding of the potential changes in local environments and ecologies because subsistence patterns closely correlate to these factors.

"Thus, subsistence patterns are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and anthropogenic development (whether it be oil and gas development, shipping, tourism, or another).

"Additional information is needed to determine the potential hazard to native subsistence livelihoods from oil and gas exploration and development, since such development can impact all parts of the spectrum from the specific subsistence animals themselves through their food chain and ecosystem."

The U.S. Geological Survey released the report to better inform decisions regarding oil and natural gas exploration and development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska, a USGS press release said. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar requested the study more than a year ago.


Alex DeMarban can be reached at

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