Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SNRAS project receives national recognition for successful researcher-community partnerships

“The Subsistence Sharing Network Project,” a UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences cooperative study, will receive highest honors from the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary of Interior Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The “Secretary’s Partners in Conservation Award” is granted to organizations demonstrating exemplary collaboration and unique investigations. The Sharing Project is one of 17 projects receiving the award.

Begun on the North Slope in 2008, the “Subsistence Sharing Networks Project” was headed by SNRAS Associate Professor Gary Kofinas (pictured above) and post-doctoral researcher Shauna BurnSilver. It was conceived by Dee Williams of BOEMRE, building upon work initiated by Jim Magadanz of Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“The project sought to realize a good approach for working with communities and in that effort, shift the paradigm of how researchers and communities work together in arctic social science,” Kofinas said. “The success of the project is explained, in part by the extra effort made cooperating and building relationships with local residents, who helped design and shape the project.”

Another key factor was community leaders who understood the value of documenting their subsistence systems using quantitative research methods and encouraged local residents to participate. “The effort modeled good research partnerships with communities, which is what our university tries to do,” Kofinas said.

Many community, tribal, state and federal agencies were involved, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Subsistence and the North Slope Borough Wildlife Management Department. The project was funded by the Environmental Studies Program of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Services).

Although studies of Alaska Native subsistence activities have been undertaken for decades, most of the research has been limited to recording harvest levels. This project used cutting edge methods of social network analysis to document and analyze subsistence food sharing networks, cooperative hunting, participation in the cash economy and issues of food security.

Through broad collaboration among project partners, the project provides a novel means to quantify the traditional values of cooperative and reciprocal relationships among Alaska Native people, who are bonded by deeply embedded cultural sharing behaviors. The study identifies how these relationships contribute to the resilience of rural communities, as well as the vulnerabilities of resident households, to a variety of forces of change and potential disruption.

Research was conducted in Kaktovik, Wainwright and Venetie. Each community had its own advisory board to help guide the study and identify ways to communicate goals. Seventeen village residents were hired and trained as research associates, working alongside UAF graduate students to conduct interviews. The success of the project was demonstrated by a high survey response rate of 92 percent of all household heads in all three study communities.

The project provides baseline data that will be invaluable for monitoring change and potential impacts from climate change and anticipated oil and gas development, both onshore and offshore, that may affect residents of the North Slope Borough. This monitoring effort will facilitate long-term conservation of cultural resources and wildlife resources.

SNRAS Dean Carol Lewis said, “The research has accomplished what many others have not been able to address, the role and significance of subsistence resources in traditional lifeways. The methodology will pave the way for future work and hopefully lead to a monetary and non-monetary system for tracking subsistence resource use in the face of a changing climate.”

No comments: