Georgetown Tribal Council Environmental Blog

Keeping Members Connected to Resource & Environmental Issues Important to Georgetown

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:


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 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 or Jenny Blanchard, Archeologist at

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

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 or 907-274-2195 if you know of someone who is interested in contributing to the success of this project.




Is Climate Change Effecting Water Temperatures in Georgetown?

Georgetown Tribal Council staff members just got back from the fall trip out to Georgetown to complete water testing.   We have been collecting information from the monitoring well sights since 2008, and the freshwater sites since 2012.  In this article we will  share  some of the interesting trends we are starting to see in the freshwater sites.

For a complete set of water quality data for Georgetown as well as other communities on the middle Kuskokwim, please visit our online map and database here.

Figure 1 below shows the temperatures recorded in the Kuskokwim River, just in front of Georgetown (KR-1), as well as just up from  the mouth of the George River (GR-1) from 2012 to 2016.   Data is collected in the early part of the summer and in the beginning of the fall each year.  What do all of these lines mean?  Well in terms of preferred salmon water conditions: If the water temperature is found to be above the bright red line, it means that the water is too warm for migrating salmon and rearing areas.  If the water temperature is above the dark red line, it means that the water is too warm for spawning and egg/fry incubation.

Figure 1: Temperature Recorded at Kuskokwim & George Rivers, as related to maximum temperature ranges for salmon in various stages of their life cycle


All of the recorded temperatures that fall above those lines are labeled in the graph above. Note that on the George River, since 2013, each recording in July has fallen above that dark red line.  For the Kuskokwim River, the temperatures are coming in above both  the bright red and the dark red, meaning conditions would not be good for salmon migrating through the area or spawning there.

Figure 2: Dissolved Oxygen Levels at George & Kuskokwim Rivers, as related to range set by AK DEC  Water Quality standards


Figure 2 shows Dissolved oxygen levels at these same sites. The only time Dissolved oxygen levels fell outside of the range set by AK DEC water quality standards was in September of this year, and it was above the maximum level, which is less concerning than if it would fall below the range.

pH, salinity & total dissolved solids are other parameters we measure, and those levels are all looking good.

It is worth asking if the rising temperature in the rivers are due to a warming climate.  Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP)  temperature predictions show for Georgetown (figure 3) that temperature increases will continue and it seems to agree that July is one of the warmer months.  To view the interactive version of this graph visit  the SNAP website – graphs are available for most communities in Alaska. It seems only likely that if temperatures are on the rise, water temperatures would follow suit.

Figure 3: SNAP predictions of temperatures rising in Georgetown


For more information about the parameters we measure, visit our website.  Stay tuned for more information about what kind of metals we are finding in both freshwater and monitoring well sites.  We will post information once we receive results from Test America from the trip this September.

What’s New at the Red Devil Mine Site?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed an early action at the Red Devil Mine site last summer 2015 which basically moved tailings already there away from the creek and created a place to catch future eroded tailings.   This also involved some realigning of a portion of the Red Devil Creek.

Why go to all of this effort?  It was determined that the tailings piles were eroding into Red Devil Creek, carrying with them high concentrations of mercury, arsenic, and antimony. It was done to provide some help to the area until site-wide clean up can take place.


early action clean up
Photos Showing Early Action at RDM; taken from BLM  January 2015 Newsletter

Now What?  In CERCLA Terms, we are awaiting the release of the Proposed Plan.

CERCLA Process Where are we now
Superfund CERCLA Process Flowchart

According to Mike McCrum, the Red Devil Mine Project Manager with the BLM,  the BLM has finalized the Feasibility Study (FS) and developed a draft Proposed Plan, which is still under review by the EPA and AK DEC, and cannot yet be made public.



žThis plan will describe BLM’s preferred site-wide cleanup method. They anticipate the Proposed Plan will be ready to present to communities in the fall of 2015 or the following spring.

After they receive and consider public comment, they can then develop a Record of Decision.  That will be the final document that will define what action(s) will be taken,  cleanup levels, and future monitoring requirements.

žIf you have time to read and  translate the scientific terminology of the Feasibility Study or Remedial Investigation found here, you may notice that a large amount of focus is on the tailings, and not much time is spent on the groundwater.  This is because the initial Study focused on tailings and related contaminated soil.

The BLM is now working on what they are calling the supplemental RI, which will focus on groundwater and Kuskokwim River sediment. A draft of this report was completed in May 2016 and is currently under review.  Once complete, they will follow the steps outlined above – eventually coming to a decision on how to cleanup the groundwater and river sediment.

žStay tuned for more updates, we will let you know when the first Proposed Plan is out for public review and commenting.

Since Georgetown is just downriver from the RDM site and we have been documenting high levels of Arsenic in the groundwater wells there, your comments will be important!!


EC Kate Schaberg/08.19.2016




Where Do You Stand

Where you stand looking out at the landscape above is in one of the most pristine places of Alaska I have experienced.  I’ve been up to Fairbanks and down to Homer, over to Kodiak and more…and still, this place stands out. There is just something about it…you can sense the sacred nature of it, and almost feel its history.

Unfortunately, keeping it this way isn’t something that will just happen.  We’ve got to work together to ensure the protection of the environment here.

So, where do you stand?

So far, we’ve got 13 Tribal Member responses to the Environmental Survey that will show us where you stand on what is important.  At the top is the protection of subsistence resources, followed closely behind by water quality, traditional ecological knowledge & the health of the watershed.

graph of priorities 2016

Do you agree?  Or do you think we should be more focused on climate change or what’s going on with the mining of resources on the Kuskokwim near Georgetown?

Drink a cup of coffee, think back to your time in Georgetown.  Take our survey here:  Let us know where you stand!

Small bonus (each person with a completed survey before August 26th will be entered to win one of these hoodies donated by Salmon Sisters):


 EC Kate Schaberg/08.09.16



Make Your Voice Heard

The Environmental Department has put together a survey to get input from all Georgetown members.  The goal is to be able to focus our attention on the issues you feel are most important.   We’d love to hear from each and every one of you about what you feel is most important to the Native Village of Georgetown.

It takes a whole village to not only raise a child, but also to preserve and protect the natural resources for the generations to come.

The survey only takes a minute or so to complete:

Thanks so much,


EC, Kate Schaberg 07.29.16

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