Climate Change Wreaking Havoc in Alaska: A Firsthand Account

Fishing for wild salmon on the Kisaralik River in Alaska.
Fishing for wild salmon on the Kisaralik River in Alaska.

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to take some vacation time for a family fishing trip to Alaska.  If you haven’t been to Alaska, I hope you get the chance to go someday.  The marine and artic ecosystems filled with spectacular wildlife, the vast wild open spaces, the endless glaciers, and towering peaks make Alaska one of the greatest areas on the planet.  In preparation for the trip I came to understand that when you visit Alaska in the summer you might get a lot of cloudy days, some rain, 50 degree temps, and insane amounts of mosquitos. This is what I expected for our 7-day float-fishing trip down the Kisaralik River in southwestern AK, but amazingly we had dry 70-80 degree days for 5 days straight and I only put on mosquito repellant twice!

What a beauty...
What a beauty…

While this was awesome weather for our trip, it was another unusual heatwave for Alaska, of which there have been many in recent years.  Northern latitudes are experiencing impacts from climate change much more significantly than lower latitudes.  Here in the lower 48, on a daily basis my senses and routines don’t seem to be affected too much by climate change.  I recognize there’s some hot days, mild winters and extreme weather and wonder if it could be attributed.  But for many in Alaska and other northern latitudes, their way of life is being significantly altered due to climate change and it may just be a matter of time before ours in the lower 48 is too.

Apparently we weren't the only ones fishing for salmon...
Apparently we weren’t the only ones out here in search of a salmon dinner.

During my trip I was able to get together with a few close friends and get enlightened on some of the issues Alaska is facing due to climate change that we don’t hear much about in the lower 48.  My sources were primarily Alaskans Dave, Conservation Director of the Great Land Trust, and Tom, author of blog “Hope: Good News from the Environment”, both close friends of mine from college.

Here are some of the facts from Tom and Dave:

  • Glacial rivers are way high this summer, and glaciers are receding due to warmer temps.
  • Temperatures all over are way hot. For years, the highest recorded temp in Alaska was 90 degrees in Fairbanks. Then Talkeetna hit 93 like 3 summers ago. This summer, and note how much higher this is, Fairbanks allegedly hit 100, just a week or two ago.
  • North Slope polar bears are not able to make it to the ice pack. This makes them hungry and they turn to humans and their food in desperation. They have thus become threatening to the Inupiaq who sometimes have to shoot them as a result. If it keeps happening, they will be isolated to just the most northern places like in Svalbard, Russia and northern Canada, assuming the ice remains there.  They might go extinct.
  • The huge one for climate science is melting permafrost releasing methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than co2.
  • We are having more frequent and intense forest fires.
  • Sea level rise has played havoc with some villages, as well as ice pack reduction. As it recedes, there are more waves, and more waves have sped up erosion that has caused at least one village to move. They are a canary in the coal mine out there like the lowest country, Vanuatu in the south pacific.
  • Regular timing for things like salmon runs are off. Snow loads are off. The hunting and fishing schedules ran like clocks for years, and the altered timing disrupts food sources for subsistence users and thousands of dollars for commercial.
  • The silver salmon were supposed to run last week or so. They aren’t anywhere in Prince William Sound. No one seems to know where they are, but they aren’t spawning that’s for sure. It’s costing commercial fisherman thousands of dollars on a daily basis.
  • Soaring Arctic temperatures have released anthrax long frozen in the Russian tundra, sickening scores of nomadic herders, including 50 children, and killing one 12-year-old boy, according to news reports.

Depressed? Well at EcoForesters we are doing our part to lessen the impact of climate change through education, forest conservation and positive impact forestry.  Stay tuned for my next blog post for more on how.

– Rob Lamb, EcoForesters President/Founder

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