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Cross-scale risk perception: differences between tribal leaders and resource managers in Arctic Alaska

Berill Blair, Wageningen University and Research
Gary P. Kofinas, University of Alaska Fairbanks


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Communities of Alaska’s North Slope are affected by concurrent, rapid changes due to climate change and industrial activities. Because these impacts are expected to shape community planning agendas into the foreseeable future, increased attention has been paid to decision-making processes that support adaptation. The planning and development decisions that shape adaptation outcomes in North Slope communities take place within complex institutional and policy processes. At the same time, the resilience of rural Alaska communities is closely tied to the extent their interests and local-level priorities are reflected in national- and regional-level decisions on resources that support local livelihoods. For this reason it is important to survey which adaptive responses are of high priority and what are the risks to adaptation at the community level. Given the nested nature of institutions in the region, comparing perceptions across scales can provide insight into potential areas of agreement and difference. To assess these differences, we surveyed North Slope Iņupiat tribal leaders and Alaska State and U.S. federal resource management professionals about perceived risks to North Slope community sustainability. Results showed shared areas of understanding about the extent of impacts from certain changes. However, there were marked differences in risk priorities, in the evaluations of local capacity to treat risks, and community resilience. Our findings suggest that although there are effective channels of communication to exchange observations and understandings regarding land use and cover changes, the views on risk and resilience held by key actors correlate with their role in and proximity to the social-ecological system under examination. By evaluating scale-specific risk priorities and the resources already in place to respond to change, decision makers can better leverage existing resources and adaptive capacities.

Key words

adaptation; Arctic; community development; institutional fit; risk perception; sustainability

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087