Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rural Alaska is Crumbling...

Rural Alaska is crumbling...

Erosion affects rural Alaska on myriad levels

In a five part series, the Associated Press recently examined the impact of erosion in its various forms as well as the strengths of Alaskan rural communities and Alaska natives who have endured some of the harshest conditions on Earth for thousands of years... Winds and water continually wear away at scores of native communities. Every year whole chunks of land simply float away...

RACHEL D'ORO, Associated Press, December 24, 2006 - see full story at Anchorage Dailey News -

Perhaps the plight of rural Alaska can be summed up in the story of the beaver.

Patricia Cochran never saw the web-footed rodent during her childhood in Nome, an old gold-rush town halfway up the western Alaska coast. No one ever saw trees there either, that is, until residents began planting aspens and birch, and those and other alien plant-life firmly took hold in the warming region. Also multiplying along streams and lakes were brush willows and alders, choice fare for the beavers that followed.

"Before, there were no beavers there because there was no source of food for them," said Cochran, 57, executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission. "Now there are trees in people's front yards. The treeline has moved so much farther north that the beavers are now moving into the area..."

Cochran and others believe the beaver's expansion is but a symptom of rising temperatures that have brought other dramatic changes, including the pervasive erosion eating away at Native communities.

With change comes complications, as aptly manifested by the beaver. The animal is blamed for bringing disease, interrupting fish migration patterns and blocking navigation routes in areas it was never seen before. This voracious rodent is known to abandon overforaged or dried up sites.

Now, ecological shifts have given it more space, said Dave Klein, a biology professor emeritus with the University of Alaska Fairbanks... "Climate change is not affecting just part of the world. It's a global phenomenon," added Klein.

The repercussions, however, are drastic closer to the Arctic. This is where effects of warming have appeared with mounting intensity, partly because as snow and ice shrink, the terrain absorbs more heat instead of reflecting it.

In Alaska, warming climate is melting permanent sea ice, leaving coastal villages vulnerable to stronger storms and flooding, their shorelines and riverbanks washing away. Native subsistence hunters are traveling farther for seals and other icebound prey. Ancient graves are surfacing in village cemeteries. A handful of threatened communities are even planning expensive relocations.

Other regions also are prone to erosion and flooding, but Alaska is unlike any other place in the nation, said Bruce Sexauer, a senior planner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps investigates erosion and designs and builds solutions such as sea walls and breakwaters.
"The uniqueness is in the remoteness and high reliance upon natural resources for survival," Sexauer said. "The communities are hundreds of miles away from Anchorage, have no connection by road, rely heavily upon hunting and fishing for their food, and do not have the financial-based economies often needed to participate as cost sharing partners in federal programs."

Almost as widespread as erosion, the beaver's range has inched up the state over the past two decades. State wildlife officials say reports have placed the animals as far north as 140 miles above the Arctic Circle.

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 4:09 PM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    I have no intention of ending the discussion about community development, but I thought I would post this as a diversion from that discussion for just a little while. I promise, we'll move on to #3 on Michael Holton's list of things that make rural community development difficult very, very soon. thanks, John Crabtree,

  • At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    John, I'm surprised that you have been taken in by the global warming huxters. I've always thought you do your homework, but you're being taken on this one.

  • At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A word of caution, John Crabtree is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and I have been around a long, long time. If he says the global climate is changing, not only do I believe him, I'll wager that he make you look foolish for saying he didn't do his homework. Whiting, Iowa

  • At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    According to the Anchorage Daily News 184 Native Alaskan villages, out of 213 total (86%) are threatened by shore erosion and flooding - sounds like a real problem to me.

    Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is considering seeking a "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act for polar bears. That's right, part of the Bush Administration's Department of the Interior says that polar bears are threatened by polar ice melting due to, you guessed it, global climate change.

    I think Mr. Crabtree's right on the money again.

  • At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    All I am saying is that even the scientists don't agree on whether global warming is happening and they don't agree on whether human activity is contributing to the problem.

  • At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Here are two scientists that are regularly quoted as denying that global climate change is happening:

    SALLIE BALIUNAS, a Harvard-Smithsonian Institute astrophysicist, has, along with colleague WILLIE SOON, been giving global climate change deniers scientific cover since the mid-1990s. They began by claiming solar effects could account for the rise of the global thermostat. After that theory was debunked, Baliunas and Soon wrote a paper—partially funded by the American Petroleum Institute — for the journal Climate Research that claimed that the 20th century hasn’t been all that warm. Their conclusions have been praised as the epitome of “sound science” by deniers, including Sen. James Inhofe. The journal’s editor, meanwhile, said the paper should never have been published. Baliunas and Soon are each connected to at least four ExxonMobil-funded groups.

  • At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    and here is another scientist

    PATRICK MICHAELS: University of Virginia climatologist and Cato Institute fellow. One of the most widely cited global climate change skeptics, Michaels has received substantial funding from energy companies. Author of The Satanic Gases and Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media. Connections to ExxonMobil-funded groups: at least seven.

  • At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    According to Mother Jones magazine (June 2005 edition)
    "ExxonMobil has pumped more than $8 million into more than 40 think tanks; media outlets; and consumer, religious, and even civil rights groups that preach skepticism about the oncoming climate catastrophe."
    Mother Jones labeled that article
    "Put a Tiger in your Think Tank."

  • At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Santa should have brought the pervious poster a copy of An Inconvienent Truth by Al Gore

  • At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gore's film is a great source, I wish Santa had brought me a copy. Another must read is Naomi Oreskes' article on the global climate change consensus in Science (December 3, 2004). If you think that scientists don't agree, her short review of the avaiable scientific literature will make you feel, well silly. Her analysis makes it very clear that a consensus does exist.

  • At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Arguing with naysayers only detracts from doing something about global climate change - while we argue the temperature keeps rising, the ice keeps melting, the water keeps coming. If you haven't contacted your members of Congress about this issue yet, what are you waiting for?

    And, may I suggest a couple of faces that should be added to the "Stop global warming" campaign literature? How about a polar bear and Santa Claus, both of whom will lose their homes when the polar ice cap completely melts in 30 odd years.

    Lastly, we should remember that this is the Blog for Rural America, and perhaps this was Mr. Crabtree's original intent with this post, but once again rural people are on the frontline in this battle once again.

  • At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I get the point about not arguing with those who are still in denial, but come on, beavers 140 miles North of the arctic circle? Good God!

  • At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    people that don't care about the environment and do not believe that there is a serious problem are they same people that think there should be unlimited and unregulated hunting.

  • At 6:03 AM, Blogger Tim said…

    The National Arbor Day Foundation has a nice little animation showing the northward march of its hardiness zones in the US between 1990 and 2006 here.

    Seeing is believing.

  • At 11:31 PM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    Tim, the Arbor Day animation is awesome, if disconcerting. Thanks for sharing that link. John Crabtree,

  • At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Plight of rural Alaskans deserves our continuing attention (letter to Anchorage Daily News)

    My hat's off to the Daily News for printing Associated Press articles on the plight of rural Alaska. While the manifold problems facing rural residents, agency planners, politicians and we taxpayers are nothing new, the urgency to undertake immediate action is increasingly evident -- more critical as time wears on.

    The convergence, and effects thereof, respective to climatic warming, zilch revenue sharing, the declining level of Bush income, inflated energy costs, juxtaposition of village site locations, social disorders, and acculturation, coupled with public apathy and agency complacency, is surely leading Alaska down a path of unremitting gloom.

    Reliance upon the U.S. Corps of Engineers or other bureaucratic entities, for instance, to react to these realities is a slender reed to lean on.

    Considering the unimaginable consequences, it's absolutely imperative that federal and state agencies, congressional and legislative bodies as well as corporate and rural administrators undertake collaborative steps in order to put the realities of crumbling rural Alaska in full perspective, develop remedial measures and to do so with the utmost expediency.

    ---- Dick Hensel, Anchorage, AK


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