Secretary Jewell Stresses Collaboration to help Alaska Natives Meet Challenges of Climate Change

Secretary addresses Alaska Federation of Natives leadership, visits climate-impacted coastal communities

2/17/2015
Last edited 4/26/2016


KOTZEBUE, Alaska – At the invitation of the Alaska Federation of Natives and as part of President Obama's commitment to help Alaska Native leaders build strong, prosperous and resilient communities, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell this week met with local leaders in Alaska. A major focus of the Secretary's visit involved site visits and discussions around ways to make coastal communities better prepared to face the impacts of climate change.

Earlier today, the Department of the Interior announced that it will make available $8 million to fund projects that promote tribal climate change adaptation and ocean and coastal management planning through its Tribal Climate Resilience Program. More information is available here.

"Alaska Native communities are on the front line of a changing climate and live with very real impacts on infrastructure, economic development, personal safety and food security," said Secretary Jewell. "The Administration remains fully committed to working with local leaders to build more resilient communities and protect the traditions that are central to Alaska Natives' cultures and identities."

Jewell was in Kotzebue for two days to meet with Alaska Native leaders, state officials and local representatives. She and Deputy Secretary Mike Connor have previously met with AFN on a number of occasions, both in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.

On Monday, Jewell visited Kivalina and Kotzebue, two coastal communities that are experiencing severe impacts from climate change. Kivalina is a Native village on the northwest coast that engineers predict could be inundated within a decade due to retreating sea ice. The villagers, who rely on the sea for subsistence, described how rising temperatures and higher sea levels made the village increasingly vulnerable to Arctic storms and coastal erosion.

"Hundreds of villagers in Kivalina face the terrible prospect of losing their land and homes to rising sea levels and coastal erosion, threatening their personal safety and putting them at risk of becoming climate change refugees within a decade," said Jewell. "We need to support threatened Native villages and other vulnerable communities in developing climate adaptation and resilience strategies that can help preserve their way of life."

President Obama's FY2016 budget calls for $50.4 million – a $40.4 million increase over 2015 – to assist Alaska Native and American Indian communities in evaluating options for protecting and enhancing healthy and resilient ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

In response to Alaska Native concerns, the Interior Department is also working to protect subsistence resources and uses. A draft regulation has been issued that would better address rural/non-rural determinations by the Federal Subsistence Board for providing a priority for rural residents in the taking of fish and wildlife resources on federal lands.

Noting that Alaska Native groups have long sought cooperative management of subsistence resources on federal land, Jewell said Interior is launching a pilot project for cooperative management of the salmon fishery in the Kuskokwim River drainage in Southwest Alaska. The pilot is intended to begin before the 2016 fishing season.

"The pilot project will incorporate local Alaska Native knowledge into our fishery management decision-making," said Jewell, who chairs the White House Council on Native American Affairs and has recommended that more federal agencies use cooperative agreements with Alaska Native communities to take advantage of local expertise and be responsive to subsistence needs.

Additionally, the Interior Department is working to strike a balance that promotes appropriate conservation, protects Alaska Native subsistence resources and sensitive marine ecosystems, and supports responsible energy development on public lands and offshore areas.

Because of the challenging Arctic conditions and substantial environmental, social and ecological concerns, Interior is using a targeted leasing strategy for offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic. The Draft Proposed Plan for offshore oil and gas leasing for 2017-2022, which the Department released in January, calls for three potential lease sales offshore Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet. It also makes available for leasing areas that include 90% of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources, while also providing lasting protections for subsistence activities and environmentally critical areas.

Interior recently released the Final Supplemental EIS that addressed federal court concerns regarding Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193, and moves the Department closer to resolving the 2008 oil and gas leases.

Onshore, Interior has made 72 percent of the technically and economically recoverable oil and gas in the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska available for exploration and development. The 205 authorized leases in the reserve cover more than 1.73 million acres. Since 1999, 10 lease sales in NPR-A have garnered $261 million and in 2011, the President ordered lease sales to be held annually, rather than every two years.

The Bureau of Land Management last week issued the final Record of Decision for ConocoPhillip's proposed Greater Mooses Tooth Unit project. This decision opens the way for the first production of oil and gas on federal lands in the NPR-A, and provides a new source of supply for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

Protecting sensitive Arctic public lands and supporting Alaska Native cultures and subsistence lifestyles also helped guide Interior's recently proposed Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The plan includes the protection of wildlife populations and their habitats in this critical ecosystem, and addresses subsistence needs of local inhabitants, opportunities for fish- and wildlife-dependent recreation, and other public uses.