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Georgetown Tribal Council Environmental Blog

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Climate Change, Close to Home…Join us in the discussion of how to prepare for the future of Georgetown

Buzz words like climate change and global warming can at first seem very vague, and maybe we even think – that doesn’t apply to where I live….But when we start seeing hurricanes of unprecedented size wreak havoc on communities in other parts of the world, it becomes a bit more real.  Communities in Alaska paint the picture even more clearly, and closer to home.

Take for instance, the community of Newtok, where the Ninglick River is eating away at the shoreline.  Engineers estimate the village is losing 70 feet of land per year.

picture

An Inupiaq Eskimo village, Kivalina is situated on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea, about 80 miles north of the Arctic circle. Last October, the state declared a disaster after the main water line to the village was destroyed by a storm. The village was forced to close the school and impose water rationing.

Maybe you need an example even closer to home?  Jasmine Gil, originally from Bethel, is studying the effects of wildfires on permafrost with the Polaris Project, 50 miles north of Bethel.  “Gil and about a dozen recent graduates from across the nation have traveled north of Bethel to Kuka Creek to study the massive 2015 wildfire’s effects on the permafrost below. By one estimate, twice as much carbon is stored in permafrost as in the atmosphere. Wildfires could release that carbon, creating dramatic, and possibly, drastic effects on the planet.”

Recently, GTC staff members met with residents in the Middle Kuskokwim to record traditional ecological knowledge.  Several themes became apparent during those talks, including talk about how much colder the winters used to be, and how much more snow there was years ago.  Berries are changing, birds are changing….

What can we do?  The Native Village of Georgetown has a unique opportunity to use the information available, pair it with local knowledge and prepare for the future – rather than try to fix the past.  Instead of dealing with moving a village, we can take what we know and design a village fit to stand up to the changing climate.

Join us on September 9th at 1 PM at the Alaska Pacific University, for our vulnerability assessment workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to give participants the opportunity to share collective knowledge, learn about climate  projections, and consult with experts about impacts to our area. Results will be prepared into a report and other outreach materials intended to help us prepare for the future, along with the communities in our area.

For more information, contact Kate Schaberg at kate.schaberg@georgetowntc.com or by phone at (907) 717-5292.

 

 

 

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Conservation For King Salmon is the Message, Following KRSMWG Meeting on June 14th

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group met Wednesday morning, June 14th, 2017.  The  subsistence reports were heard, ADF&G staff gave their assessment, and overall there was agreement – the numbers aren’t adding up well for Chinook salmon in the Kuskokwim River Drainage so far this year.

The ADF&G assessment referenced a “snapshot” look into Chinook numbers.   Here is that snapshot provided by ADF&G on chinook salmon, taken from today’s working group packet, numbers up to date as of 6/12.

• The Bethel Test Fish (BTF) daily Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) was 3.
• The BTF cumulative CPUE is 21.
22% years since 2008 fell below this cumulative CPUE.
• 13% of the run is complete based on historical average run timing.
• 16% of the run is complete based on a preliminary run timing forecast (official forecast will be available soon).
• Late run scenarios are considered highly unlikely at this time due to the preliminary timing forecast (1.4 days early).
• 15 – 22% of the run is expected to pass in the next 5 days.
• Over the last 3 days, Chinook salmon made up 27% of the BTF catches, compared to 53% on average.

If these numbers tell us anything, it is that conservation for kings is necessary, and we are in another year where sockeye and coho will be relied heavily upon for subsistence needs.

The next working group meeting is scheduled for  Wednesday, June 21st at 10 am.

To view current escapement information, please visit the ADF&G Kuskokwim River Fish Counts page: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyareakuskokwim.salmon#fishcounts
For the most up-to-date information regarding fishing opportunities please visit:
USFWS: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/yukon_delta/wildlife_and_habitat/dailyupdate.html
ADF&G: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=cfnews_mobile.main

GTC’s TEK Project Leads to a Unique Glimpse into the Past of Georgetown, Alaska

As part of GTC’s project to document Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), staff members have been researching the historical information available about the Native Village of Georgetown.  Thanks to the efforts of our staff members, as well as the staff workers at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, we are happy to present the following fourteen photographs, which serve as a glimpse into Georgetown as it once existed.

These photographs can be found in the collection entitled: Trip to Alaska: Georgetown, King Island, Little Diomede and other Alaskan communities, ca. 1910-1920 PCA 227.  The introduction to the collection states that the photographer/collector of the album is uncertain.  An excerpt from the introduction is below.

“Within the album is a name card for I.W. Mason of Seattle, Washington.  In 1910, a trading post was opened by George Fredericks on the Kuskokwim River northwest of Sleetmute.  Later it was named Georgetown and a post office was established there in 1912, but was discontinued in 1913.

Most of the photos are postcard size and the quality ranges from poor to good.  Many of the Georgetown views have a circled “S” on them.  The album was donated to the library in 1983 by R.N. DeArmond”

GTC will be conducting TEK interviews in both Georgetown & Sleetmute this summer.  If you have additional photographs or maps you think will be helpful to this project, or if you would like to be involved in the process, please contact our Project Assistant, Jonathan Samuelson at jonathan@georgetowntc.com or our Environmental Coordinator, Kate Schaberg, at 907-717-5292.

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Season is Almost Upon Us…Make Your Voices Heard!

The sun is rising earlier, and setting later each day.  The birds are singing about spring, and before we know it, bits of green will be sprouting everywhere and yes! – the fish will return.

And when they do return, what will happen?  Will there be plenty of subsistence opportunity? Will their be restrictions on the type of gear you can use? Will  escapement goals be met?……..Will there be enough fish?

These are questions that you can discuss during several meetings to be held next week in Bethel.  Use these groups and make your voices heard!

KRITFC Meeting: March 28-29

The first meeting is of the Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission (KRITFC).  It will be held at the Cultural Center in Bethel on March 28-29.  The KRITFC is the group that formed in the spring of 2015, for the very purpose of having full participatory governance that determine the harvest of the Kuskokwim’s salmon resources – Tribal, State & Federal governments, all at the same table.  All with an equal voice.

The KRITFC has Commissioners from thirty three villages, representing seven districts on the Kuskokwim.  This meeting will welcome all Commissioners plus interested members of the public.  If you cannot attend this meeting, please make sure to call you Commissioner sometime before these meetings, and let them know what concerns or thoughts you may have about the upcoming season, so that they can be represent you and your ideas.

If you aren’t sure who your Commissioner is, contact LaMont Albertson, the KRITFC Interim Director.

KRSMWG Meeting: March 30-31

The second opportunity will be at the Spring meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group. The meeting will be on March 30 & 31, 2017 from 9:00am-5:00pm each day, also at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel, AK.

This meeting will be conducted in person and via teleconference:
1-800-315-6338 (MEET) Code: 58756# (KUSKO).

This Working Group was formed in 1988 by the Alaska Board of Fish, in response to requests from stakeholders in the Kuskokwim Area who sought a more active role in the management of salmon fishery resources.  It is a State of Alaska inseason advisory group made up of 13 member seats representing elders, subsistence fishermen, processors, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, member at large, federal subsistence regional advisory committees, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Up For Discussion: The 2017 Kuskokwim River Chinook Salmon Forecast and Associated Management Actions

The 2017 Kuskokwim River Chinook salmon forecast is for a range of 132,000–222,000 fish. The drainage-wide Chinook salmon escapement goal is 65,000–120,000. Average subsistence Chinook salmon harvest is 84,000. If the run comes back within the forecast range, then there may be enough Chinook salmon to provide for escapement and subsistence needs.

Kuskokwim River Management Strategy

The department intends to provide more directed Chinook salmon subsistence harvest opportunity than in recent years. Management actions that may be in place during the 2017 subsistence fishing season include, but are not limited to:

·         Early season Chinook salmon subsistence fishery closure;

·         Gillnet mesh size and length restrictions;

·         Tributary closures;

·         Live release of Chinook salmon from dip nets, fish wheels, seines etc.;

·         Time and area restrictions and;

·         Subsistence hook and line bag and possession limits.

If you are a Georgetown member, and have concerns you’d like our Commissioner to voice, Contact Jonathan Samuelson at jonathan@georgetowntc.com or 907-274-2195.

 

 

AFE: Despite Global Issues our World Faces, Here’s Where to Find Inspiration

I attended the 19th Annual Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE) earlier this month.  The week was jammed full of information about environmental issues we face in Alaska, and I left the Dena’ina Center day after day, accumulating a sense of overwhelming urgency, a need to do something. 

The water is warming, the air temperatures are like never before, wildfires are at unprecedented levels, the ocean is changing in ways so complicated that even chief scientists aren’t sure what to make of it, climate changes abound and are altering traditional ways of life in communities throughout the state…it would seem that all signs point to certain disaster.  And yet…

If you look closely, and listen carefully, you may just find what I did:  inspiration, in many forms.  Stories of success!

Youth teaching across generations about the story of the salmon and what culture means to them, Tribal members working with University scientists to study permafrost thaw in remote regions of Alaska, whole sections of our state working together to notify shellfish harvesters when PSP levels are too high for consumption, remote regions working together to backhaul waste from rural villages, people coming together to make positive changes in their communities.

So what then, is the key to these successes?  In the face of all of these complicated and challenging problems for our earth, what can we do about it?

We can work together

In the words of Kathleen Dean Moore, “ What we cannot do alone, we can do together”.

If you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by all of these issues – do not despair.  If AFE was any indication at all, there are people all over the world working together to make a difference.

So I urge you all – Today – pick up your phone, write an e-mail, start a conversation with someone you know or maybe a complete stranger- about an issue that is important to you.   It is in that relationship building that you will find a solution to the problem.  Create your own story of success, and share it with the world.  We will find inspiration only in each other.

Long Time, No See!

Well, it’s been a busy couple of months over here at the Georgetown Tribal Council.  I figured it was well past time we catch you up on all we’ve been working on!

First – a thank you to Kattie Wilmarth, Georgetown member, for sending us lots of awesome photos to use (like the one you see above).  We are always so happy to get photos from our members so we can make you a part of our communication with everyone.

Onto the update of our recent work: The latest news is that the Georgetown Tribal Council has contracted the services of GEOS Institute to help develop a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the Native Village of Georgetown and surrounding areas of the Kuskokwim.  We will kesnap_chart_georgetown_alaska_temperature_rcp60_metric_cru32_10min_hiresep you posted with more to come as we move forward with this project.  Our hope is that the final Vulnerability Assessment will serve as a useful resource for not only Georgetown, but other Villages in the Region as we figure out how to deal with the impacts of Climate Change.

 

Jonathan Samuelson was hired as our TEK Project Assistant.  He will be working with Tribal members and others on the River who have TEK to share related to the Native Village of Georgetown.  He is hard at work planning for the implementation of this project, and I’m sure he will have more to share as he gets going.  We are SO thankful to have him on board.

 

I am still  developing our environmental education website for teachers in the Kuspuk School District.  It is really coming along well, and I hope to have it ready to share in a draft version by March – some of the current teachers and other professionals in the region have been nice enough to offer to help in the final review stages. If you’d also like to help review, just let me know!

Here’s just a sneak peak:

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-12-08-46-pm

As always, we are working on different aspects of our Water Quality Program, compiling information for our bi-monthly e-newsletters (look for one coming out in the beginning of February!),  and attending meetings & conferences like AFE & ATCEM to stay informed so we can distribute that information to YOU!

Please, if there is ever a topic you’d like to find out more about – let us know.  We are happy to do the legwork for you.  E-mail at kate.schaberg@georgetowntc.com or phone me at 907-717-5292!

 

 

Georgetown Is Close To The Proposed Donlin Mine Site….What Cultural Resources Do You Know About That Need Protected?

Donlin Gold and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps)  held a community meeting in Bethel earlier this week related to the protection of Cultural Resources that may potentially be effected by the Donlin Gold mine project, should it be permitted.  This was the second of two meetings (the first was held in Anchorage October 5).  If you weren’t able to attend these meetings, but want to know more about the process and how you can be involved in making sure cultural resources you know of are protected- this article is for you.

Take a look at the map up there and remember, Georgetown is just 34 miles from the proposed mine site, and probably less than 20 miles from sections of the proposed natural gas pipeline route.  In terms of culturally significant places, we’re talking about Georgetown’s backyard.

So, before Donlin can get its permit from the Corps, they have to be in compliance with both NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Section 106. The Corps is the lead agency for the project, and so is responsible for ensuring the completion of this process.  In order to be in compliance with Section 106, they must follow a series of steps.  We will discuss in detail the first step, and then list out the next steps.

STEP 1- Gather Information

  • Determine what the scope of their effort is, identify the Area of Potential Effects (APE), Identify historic properties and evaluate their significance.
  • Ultimately, at the end of this step, they will have a list of “Historic Properties” that they need to examine the effects of the project for

Now, after reading just two bullet points, I have a lot of questions.  Let’s answer some of them here:

What is the APE?

The APE is a geographic area or areas within which something related to the project may directly or indirectly cause changes in the character or use of historic properties.

What is the difference between direct and indirect effects?

An example of a direct effect would be if they started digging in a place where there were artifacts.  An example of an indirect effect would be if visual or auditory changes or a change of use takes place at a historic property because of the project.

What is considered “significant”?

In the October 5th meeting in Anchorage, it was said that: “Not all cultural resources are historic properties, but the reverse is true” So then what is the difference between a cultural resource and a historic property?

According to Section 106, to be “significant”, the cultural resource must be eligible for inclusion on the  National Register of Historic Places(NRHP).  In order for that to be true, the cultural resource must meet 1 or more of the following criteria:

  • Be associated with significant events/broad patterns
  • Be associated with historically significant people
  • Embody exceptional architecture or engineering qualities
  • Yield important information in history or prehistory

What kind of things are often identified as Historic Properties?

Historic Properties can include buildings, sites, structures, objects and Traditional Cultural Properties.  Their definition of a Traditional Cultural Property is a property or place that is associated with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that are

  • rooted in the community’s history
  • important in maintaining the continuing cultural identify of that community

It was asked at one point – well what about our fish?  Our berries? 

The answer came that no- according to NHPA, plants and animals are not considered historic properties….they are protected under NEPA.

BUT- berry picking spots and hunting places, those could be included as historic properties.

After all of this is complete, the Corps must then:

STEP 2 – Determine effects of project on these Historic Properties

STEP 3- Explore Measures to Reduce Effects To the Properties

Step 4 – Reach an Agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office & Tribal Historic Preservation Office on such measures to resolve adverse effects.

All of these steps talk about “effects”.  There are three main outcomes here:

Findings of Effects can be that a) no historic properties are present, or there will be no effect on them, b) no adverse effect – project won’t significantly diminish qualities of Historic Properties, c) adverse effect – direct, indirect or cumulative effects will significantly diminish qualities that make the Historic Properties eligible

Now, of course, there has to be a paper trail.   What does that look like?

All of the information discussed above will be put into a “Cultural Resource Management Plan” and a Programmatic Agreement.  The Programmatic Agreement is a legally binding document that Donlin will have to follow if the project is permitted.

A  Draft Programmatic Agreement (with draft versions of  APE  and the Cultural Resource Management Plan) will be released in January or February of 2017.  At that point, public comment is welcome on the documents.

But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to offer your comments.  Public comment is welcome at any point during the process.  Until the APE is defined, it will be hard to determine whether or not cultural resources of concern to you will be impacted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let the Corps know about them.

Comments can be provided via e-mail to Richard L Darden, Ph. D at Richard.l.darden@usace.army.mil or Jenny Blanchard, Archeologist at jblancard@blm.gov

Comments are welcome on the Section 106 process itself, or concerns or ideas regarding the content of the Programmatic Agreement.  They also are looking for information on historic sites, archaeological sites, or properties of traditional, religious or cultural significance that may be  within the project area and on their “significance”.  Comments can be kept confidential if that is preferred.

Stay tuned for more about the historic finds that Donlin has already made in the region.

 

 

 

We’re Hiring!

Interested in helping to collect Traditional Ecological Knowledge for the Native Village of Georgetown?  What better way to help than to come to work for us!

Check out the job posting here, and if interested, apply online or send your resume and a letter of interest to me at kate.schaberg@georgetowntc.com.

Want to learn a little bit more about the project?  Check out our introductory blog post.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

 

Exploring Traditional Ecological Knowledge…what is it?

The Georgetown environmental department is working with the environmental committee with funding from the EPA to complete a project that aims to document Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as it relates to the Native Village of Georgetown.  As we work toward the completion of this project, we will be documenting our goals and progress through a series of blog articles.  This is the first article in that series, and we will focus mainly on exploring the question – what is TEK?

Let’s start with an “official” definition, laid out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization in 1994:

The indigenous people of the world possess an immense knowledge of their environments, based on centuries of living close to nature.   Living in and from the richness and variety of complex ecosystems, they have an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of ecosystems and the techniques for using and managing them that is particular and often detailed…people’s knowledge and perceptions of the environment, and their relationships with it, are often important elements of cultural identity.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1994

From that definition, I think it’s important to note the relationship of people’s perspectives and knowledge of the environment and how it relates to their cultural identity.  Georgetown member, Jonathan Samuelson, explores that idea a bit further and brings the idea home:

Sense of place is a critical component to the cultural survival of people of a community. In cases where communities are no longer inhabited a documented history and lifestyle play a vital role in providing knowledge necessary to strengthen one’s sense of place.

Jonathan Samuelson, 2016

As we move forward with this project, we have a few goals in mind:

  1. To preserve information related to the Native Village of Georgetown including topics including but not limited to hunting grounds, harvesting areas, seasonal moves, language, medicinal uses for items found in nature, rituals & diets;
  2. To record how things have changed in the environment surrounding Georgetown; and
  3. To establish and offer a sense of place for Georgetown members.

The photo above is one that we found in the Alaska Regional Profiles: Southwest Region book.  It offers just a glimpse into what life was like in Georgetown in 1910, just over a hundred years ago.  Our hope is that through this project, we connect the people who have experienced the land and natural resources of Georgetown, document the knowledge they have and be able to offer so much more than just a glimpse.

Stay tuned for more information, and please contact Kate Schaberg at kate.schaberg@georgetowntc.com or 907-274-2195 if you know of someone who is interested in contributing to the success of this project.

 

 

 

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