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Brown, C. L., S. F. Trainor, C. N. Knapp, and N. P. Kettle. 2021. Alaskan wild food harvester information needs and climate adaptation strategies. Ecology and Society 26(2):44.
Research, part of a special feature on Resilience and Change in Arctic Alaska

Alaskan wild food harvester information needs and climate adaptation strategies

1International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, USA, 2Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, La Grande, OR, USA, 3Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA


Changing biophysical conditions due to amplified climate change in northern latitudes has significant implications for species’ habitat and populations and can dramatically alter interactions between harvesters and local resources. Tribal, regional, and state governments, federal agencies, and other local planning entities have begun documenting observations of changing harvest conditions and the information necessary for communities to adapt to shifting resource availability. We identify and evaluate what stakeholders are saying about wild foods in the context of climate change information needs in Alaska through a review of published grey literature (n = 87). Documents consistently expressed that climate change was impacting habitat conditions, resource distribution, and the abundance of wild foods. They solicited more information on biophysical processes (e.g., sea ice conditions) and population-level responses (e.g., shift in migration patterns). They also recommended that future projects focus on information that will improve food security, travel access, and community well-being. Documents suggested that communities have successfully sustained harvest practices, but most current adaptations are localized decisions being made by harvesters to manage the risks of current climate change. Strategies include finding new areas to hunt, substituting harvest species with other wild foods, or using new modes of travel. Documents also identified several adaptation strategies that still need to be implemented, and are dependent on actions by actors at larger scales; these strategies include legal, policy, and management actions to help reduce climate change impacts to wild food harvest. This review of the grey literature complements the climate-change literature by describing information needs of Alaskan wild food harvesters as well as providing tangible suggestions about how to improve adaptation and management strategies for harvesters grappling with changing resource conditions in the Arctic.
Key words: adaptive capacity; Alaska; Arctic; cultural services; needs assessment; subsistence; wild foods


Wild food harvest, e.g., hunting, fishing, and gathering, supports the livelihoods of numerous rural northern communities around the world. For many residents in Arctic communities, harvesting and consuming wild foods are cultural necessities and essential for health and well-being (Van Daele et al. 2001, Stafford Smith et al. 2011, Loring and Gerlach 2015). However, the practice of harvesting wild foods is increasingly under threat from shifts in weather extremes and long-term climate change (Lynn et al. 2014). Alaska has warmed at approximately twice the global rate affecting a host of processes including redistributions of plant species (Pearson et al. 2013), degrading permafrost (Jorgenson et al. 2010, Liljedahl et al. 2016), earlier snowmelt and later freeze-up (Euskirchen et al. 2010), changing seasonality and extent of river and sea ice (Brown et al. 2018), wetland drying (Chen et al. 2018), and increasing wildfire frequency and severity (Kasischke et al. 2010). Implications from changing biophysical conditions are striking for wildlife habitat and populations, and can dramatically alter interactions between harvesters and local resources (Huntington et al. 2016). Changes to distribution and abundance of resources can impact availability, access, and procurement of wild foods (Brinkman et al. 2013, Loring and Gerlach 2015). Because wild foods are commonly shared throughout indigenous communities, these resources concurrently influence many individuals at once, and declining availability could result in a much broader cumulative impact on food security and culture (Ford 2009).

Alaska and the Arctic northern latitudes are widely regarded as a sentinel of global climate change (Hinzman et al. 2005), resulting in a rapid proliferation of research. The explosion of new information has made it challenging for rural residents and decision makers to track existing projects, understand their cumulative insights, and gauge remaining information needs (Ford and Pearce 2012). The scientific emphasis on generating more and better information also shifts the focus away from partnering with user groups to generate research that meets their needs, which often involves utilizing knowledge to better adapt to changing conditions (Tribbia and Moser 2008, Knapp and Trainor 2013). It has become increasingly important to incorporate user needs into research design and community-based research frameworks for communities seeking to adapt to potential climate risks (Miller and Wyborn 2020). Tribal, regional, and state governments, federal agencies, and other local planning entities have suggested how scientific practices should change to make research more applicable for Alaskans including a process that is transparent, builds networks for knowledge sharing, and creates place-based long-term partnerships with communities (Knapp and Trainor 2013, 2015). Consequently, any process to identify climate change research needs would benefit from drawing from local information needs in their research design.

As residents in northern communities are identifying what they need to know to help them adapt harvest practices to climate change, they are also formalizing strategies to prepare for the physical and socioeconomic impacts (Ford and Pearce 2012, Wotkyns and González-Maddux 2014, Kettle et al. 2017). These preparatory measures include more training, requests for technical assistance, applications for funding to support mitigation and adaptation efforts, and formalized climate adaptation plans (Meeker and Kettle 2017). Rural and indigenous communities have relied on mobility, flexible hunting and harvesting seasons, detailed local and traditional knowledge, and social networks to share resource conditions. At the same time, several rapid climate-related changes have made these adaptive responses less reliable, e.g., shifting distribution of sea ice to harvest marine mammals (Huntington et al. 2016) and others more difficult, e.g., time constraints from employment (Pearce et al. 2015). Wild food gathering requires flexibility to harvest resources that are accessible, and the ability to make modifications to take advantage of resource availability given localized conditions (Ford et al. 2009, Brinkman et al. 2016). Thus, adaptation strategies are often opportunistic and depend on the ability of individuals or local groups to make changes to harvest strategies such as substitutions when resources are unavailable (Nuttall et al. 2005, Ford et al. 2006). However, with changing environmental conditions, adaptations in harvest timing and location also require broader institutional support in policy and regulatory reform at the state or federal level (Kofinas et al. 2010, McNeeley 2012, Huntington et al. 2017).

Given the importance of wild foods in rural communities in Alaska, there is demand to better understand how Alaskan harvesters are adapting to changing climate and what knowledge gaps can be filled by credible information. First, it is critical to understand overarching information needs as they relate to food harvest so that they can be prioritized and addressed by decision makers. Second, although there is an extensive literature that documents the multiple climate adaptation strategies for subsistence and food security in the Arctic (Ford and Pearce 2010, Pearce et al. 2012, Pearce et al. 2015, Berner et al. 2016) there remains a limited understanding of local adaptive capacity as it relates to information needs. Our objectives with this paper are to (1) describe what observations are being made within the grey literature about wild foods in the context of climate change; (2) express what information needs are identified in relation to climate change impacts on wild food harvest; and (3) characterize what climate change-related harvest adaptation strategies are proposed and already being implemented, and how these efforts may be enhanced by resource management and policy actions.


Document collection

To gather and retain documents, we used a combination of web and document word searches (Fig. 1, Appendix 1). Web searches were designed to collect documents that focused on three themes: (1) Alaska; (2) global climate warming; and (3) wild food harvest. We chose a set of search terms that were indicative of the three preliminary themes (Fig. 1, Box 1). To ensure that we were collecting all possible documents, we tried a series of permutations with combinations of search terms. We evaluated the combination of terms by the volume of content produced and if content was related to the three preliminary themes. Additionally, we bounded our search by assessing documents that were produced from 2008 to 2018. Following our web search, documents were imported into NVIVO and reviewed using word searches that included the original search terms. Each document was then individually reviewed to ensure that content addressed wild foods needs and adaptation strategies (Fig. 1, Box 1). Here, wild food harvest refers to hunting, fishing, and gathering activities that supports the livelihoods of Alaskan residents including customary and traditional uses of Alaska’s fish and wildlife resources, e.g., subsistence hunting and fishing. Documents were typically created by organizations such as local, state, regional governments, and tribal councils (Appendix 1). Several of these documents were produced by more than one organization or in collaboration with multiple groups. Given the diversity of contributors, we broadly characterized all groups as “stakeholders,” or non-academic entities that are likely to be impacted by climate effects on wild foods. Stakeholders included wild food harvesters, tribal community members, tribal organizations, state and federal agencies and non-profits. Documents created by research institutions were only included if they assessed the needs of a stakeholder group in order to inform local management and decision making. Peer reviewed journal articles were not included in the document review. Prior to document analysis, we confirmed our document sample through conversations with local experts in different sectors.

Document classification

To classify documents, we recorded the name(s) and type of organization, e.g., state agency, that created or wrote the document, where we found the document, e.g., website URL, type of document, methodology, as well as the year it was published (Appendix 1). Finally, to provide information regarding the geographic scope of the documents, we recorded the region and whether the community was on or off the road system. If a document focused broadly on wild foods across the state or focused on > two regions, we assigned it a “Multiple” regions classification. We summarized these classifications by providing the percentage of total documents that were coded in each group.

Document analysis

We used qualitative content analysis methods to assess (1) stakeholder observations related to climate effects on wild food harvest; (2) information needs directly associated with climate effects on wild food harvest; and (3) what adaptations were being proposed and implemented to meet stakeholder needs (Fig. 1). Content analysis is a methodology that groups sections of text related to similar themes, to identify thematic patterns across documents (Bernard and Ryan 2010). Our design included both deductive (concepts related to our analytical framework) and inductive (emergent themes related to research questions) elements. This “hybrid” approach to coding is appropriate for exploratory studies because it allows for document concepts to shape on-going analysis (Bryman 2016). We began with a coding list based on prior research of Alaskan climate change needs (Knapp and Trainor 2013, 2015) and then expanded on this list to include wild food harvest themes and concepts. Once the preliminary rounds of coding were conducted, we used the word search feature to confirm that we had labeled all themes within each document. Documents were coded twice by a single coder to make sure all stated themes were captured. We did not track how stakeholders’ needs and adaptation strategies changed overtime. Additionally, if documents were produced by more than one stakeholder group, we did not separate the various observations made by groups because it was difficult to distinguish the various viewpoints. Hierarchical coding reports were used to summarize how often a theme was coded and how many documents included a specific theme.

To summarize the information, we coded documents into three major climate-related themes: wild food species, biophysical environmental conditions that affect wild food harvest, and socioeconomic conditions that result from unpredictable wild food harvest. Impacts to wild food species included needs statements or observations related to changes in species-level populations, geographic distribution, or health. Biophysical environmental conditions included statements related to environmental or climatic changes to species habitat or the biophysical environmental conditions associated with wild food harvest. Changing socioeconomic conditions include statements related to economic, cultural, and health costs associated with unpredictable wild food harvest. Coded statements were then placed into subthemes within each category (Fig. 1, Appendix 2). We presented the percentage of total documents that included statements related to stakeholder observations of the various subthemes. These statements were associated with direct observations or experiences individuals or communities encountered while harvesting wild foods. We also quantified the total number of coded statements mentioning a research or information need related to the same major sub-themes. The information needs statements were assertions for more information, data, or strategies related to wild food harvest in the context of climate change.

Finally, we coded statements related to adaptation strategies associated with climate-related changes to wild foods. Adaptation strategies were any actions that stakeholders employed to offset the negative consequences associated with climate change impacts on wild food resources (Appendix 2). We differentiated between current strategies being implemented at the time of writing from those that were proposed and still in need of implementation. Additionally, we recorded if adaptation strategies were being implemented at the local scale, i.e., adaptations from within communities, or at broader scale outside the jurisdiction of stakeholder groups. Local-scale adaptations include strategies adopted by individual harvesters, tribal councils, or local governments. Broad-scale adaptations were strategies proposed at the regional or state level, or were strategies proposed within a community, but could not be implemented without the support of regional, state, or national institutions.


Document information

We collected and analyzed 87 documents through web searches related to climate change in the context of wild food harvest in Alaska. Organizations that created documents included state agencies (20%) and federal agencies (22%), tribal governments or organizations (25%), research institutions (8%), multiple agencies (21%), and local governments (4%; see Appendix 1, Column 5). Documents in the review were created using expert knowledge (32%), workshops (22%), surveys/interviews (16%), and literature reviews (10%). Several documents (20%) utilized more than one method to assess climate change needs. The majority of documents covered multiple regions (42%) in Alaska (Fig. 2), followed by Arctic (27%) and Western (24%) Alaskan communities. Far fewer documents focused directly on Interior (3%), Southeast (2%), and Southcentral (2%) communities. Of these communities, 47% of documents were classified as off-road communities (i.e., communities off the Alaskan road system), < 5% classified as urban, on-road communities (i.e., city centers connected to the highway system), < 5% rural, on-road communities (i.e., connected to the highway system, but in remote parts of the state). The rest of our documents (46%) represented both on and off-road communities across Alaska (Fig. 2).

Observed changes to wild food resources

Nearly half (48%) of the documents described observations that wild food species are changing as a result of climate change. Almost half of all documents (47%) stated that the geographic distributions of traditionally harvested wildlife, fish and plant species have shifted on the landscape. Stakeholders also noted that wild food species have changed in abundance (36%). Over a third of documents (35%) observed emerging or new species that may impact or interact with harvest species. Several documents (28%) also identified that the timing (phenology) of when species can be found across their range has shifted.

Stakeholder documents (40%) described that the biophysical environmental conditions that support habitat and access to wild foods have also changed. Over a third of the documents (35%) referenced observed changes in river ice and sea ice conditions including changes to ice coverage, thickness, and timing of formation. Some documents (29%) stated that hydrological conditions are changing and could have important implications on Alaskan riparian and aquatic harvested species. Stakeholders also stated that changes to the wildfire regime, such as increased fire severity, extent, and frequency, have affected habitat conditions for harvested species. Other important biophysical transformations included permafrost degradation (11%) and ocean acidification (10%).

The majority of stakeholder documents (60%) describe some socioeconomic impacts related to climate change and wild food species. Half the documents (50%) stated changes to interpersonal connections or relationships, which included statements on community connections, and self-worth or self-identity. As one document stated,

Food is the cornerstone of our culture and self- and shared identity. Harvesting of traditional foods is how cultural values, skills, and spirituality are learned - this is how all learn to be within their environments and to be part of the ecosystem. (Appendix 1, #16)

Over a third of documents (41%) identified safety and travel concerns related to traditional harvest users accessing resources. Stakeholder documents also stated the impacts on community food security (44%) and safety (37%). Other important socioeconomic impacts included economic costs associated with loss of harvest resources (32%) and increased development in areas used for traditional harvest (13%).

Stakeholder information needs

Species distribution (n = 121) was the most frequently discussed information need related to climate effects on wild food species (Fig. 3). Species abundance (n = 78), novel or emerging species (n = 73), phenological changes (n = 64), and species health (n = 47) were also regularly mentioned climate change information needs (Fig. 3). Ice conditions (n = 114) were referenced most as an information need related to changing biophysical environmental conditions impacting wild food harvest. Other biophysical information needs included extreme weather (n = 65), hydrological conditions (n = 62), fire regimes (n = 32), permafrost degradation (n = 30), and ocean acidification (n = 18; Fig. 4). Finally, relationships (n = 141) were the most commonly stated information need related to impacts on the socioeconomic conditions related to changing wild food harvest. Travel access and safety (n = 136), food security (n = 100), food safety (n = 94), and economic costs (n = 56) were also frequently discussed information needs (Fig. 5).

Adaptation strategies

Forty-two percent of documents described various adaptation strategies that help communities cope with changes to traditional harvest practices. Most of the proposed adaptation strategies stated the need for adaptable management (30%) and legal and policy frameworks (12%). Management refers to actionable, applied decision-making strategies for natural resource managers, whereas adaptable legal and policy frameworks refer to the processes and procedures that guide management of natural resources (Appendix 2). Switching harvest species (9%), training opportunities (10%), new communication strategies (7%), as well as improved techniques to process and store foods (8%) were other common strategies that still needed to be implemented by stakeholders. The vast majority of those strategies were proposed (n = 136 statements) or have not yet been implemented compared to strategies that have already been adopted (n = 55 statements) by local residents or organizations (Fig. 6). Most of the current adaptation strategies that have been adopted are localized and employed by groups of individuals within communities (n = 55 statements), versus at broader-scales (n = 32 statements). For example, switching harvest species, adapting harvest season, and community food planning are a few strategies that have been incorporated into local practice. However, most of the adaptation strategies (n = 150 statements) that still need to be implemented are being proposed at a broader-level scale (e.g., state government), than at the local level (n = 91 statements). One document stated,

The challenge for environmental and resource management agencies will be to manage for healthy, productive ecosystems in a future made less certain due to a changing climate. This will necessitate possible changes to their institutional, legal and policy frameworks to respond quickly enough to sustain the natural resources they manage for the public trust. (Appendix 1, #8)


Observations of biophysical system reverberate to social system

An increased understanding of what local people are seeing and how it relates to their needs could improve the dialog regarding the relevance of climate change research (Knapp and Trainor 2013). Almost half of the documents described alterations to biophysical environmental conditions that can impact harvesters directly by changing access, affecting food storage, and shifting modes of transportation. Changing sea ice and hydrological conditions were the most common observations reported in our search. Sea ice is an essential component for indigenous hunters that harvest marine mammals and is changing rapidly. These changes affect hunters by transforming access and altering the safety and effectiveness of ice as a substrate for hunting (Huntington et al. 2016, 2017). Thinner ice can create dangerous conditions leading to injuries and equipment damage (Mahoney et al. 2009). During the summer, people navigate large waterbodies by boat to harvest fish species or to access remote hunting areas. Our findings are consistent with other recent studies that document community concerns related to variable breakup and freeze-up conditions (McNeeley and Shulski 2011, Jones et al. 2015), which have led to reduced access to harvest areas (Brinkman et al. 2016). Documents also spoke broadly about changes in extreme weather events affecting both safety and access to wild food resources. For example, more frequent storms have led to fewer safe boating days, which can reduce hunting opportunities for marine species. Several documents described how changes in permafrost degradation could alter the hydrology of lakes and rivers that have traditionally been used to access wild foods. Additionally, harvesters observed how permafrost degradation affects the utility of traditional ice cellars, which has implications for food safety and security.

Documents suggested that species are shifting their distributions in space, e.g., home ranges, and time, e.g., seasonal migration, which has implications for the availability of these resources for local hunters. Shifting spatial distributions of wild food resources might require hunters to travel further or acquire new modes of transportation, all of which have added economic costs (Brinkman et al. 2014). Increases in temperature over the last century have clearly been linked to shifts in the geographic range of fauna, with the largest changes occurring across tundra ecoregions (Lawler et al. 2009). Given the magnitude of projected temperature changes in Alaska, it can be expected that species will continue to disperse into new suitable areas (USGCRP 2018). Changing patterns of species distribution and abundance are very likely linked to observations of shifting biophysical habitat conditions (Marcot et al. 2015). Examples include declines in lacustrine environments affecting migratory birds or shifting sea ice influencing spatial use patterns of marine mammals. Additionally, shifting environmental conditions during controlled hunting seasons may impact the harvest of wildlife resources (Hasbrouck et al. 2020). Documents also described novel interactions between new species and current species. The arrival of invasive species presents a whole new set of conservation and management concerns, whereas the appearance of game species could present new harvest opportunities.

In some cases, new subsistence resources are becoming available. In other cases, nuisance animals or predators that compete with people have hampered the success of subsistence activities. (Appendix 1, #31)

The majority of documents expressed that climate change-driven effects to wild food resources were impacting socioeconomic conditions within their communities. Fifty percent of reviewed documents described changes to interpersonal connections and relationships within their communities. This result acknowledges the importance of the wild food system from a social perspective, recognizing the importance of all aspects of harvesting, preparing, consuming, and sharing wild foods. Sharing food is an important cultural practice, and although it minimizes the risk of food insecurity, sharing also connects community members socially (Collings et al. 1998). One document stated,

Food is the cornerstone of our culture and self- and shared identity. Harvesting of traditional foods is how cultural values, skills and spirituality are learned - this is how all learn to be within their environments and to be part of the ecosystem. The relationship between Inuit and all else that makes up the Arctic environment aids in the maintenance of cultural and environmental integrity. (Appendix 1, #16)

Documents also described that climate change has negatively affected the accessibility of wild food resources. Previous work has documented the disproportionately large effects of perceived climate-driven changes on travel to subsistence resources (Porter et al. 2014, Brinkman et al. 2016, Cold et al. 2020). The ability to access wild foods is essential for Arctic food security (Lambden et al. 2007) and changing environmental conditions can not only reduce the ability to procure wild foods, but can also impact the safety and well-being of local harvesters (Brubaker et al. 2011, Clark et al. 2016).

Harvest adaptation strategies

Our review found that most current adaptations are decisions being made locally within communities to manage the risks of current climate change on wild food harvest in Alaska. Most of these strategies include finding new areas to hunt, substituting harvest species, or using new modes of travel. Research has shown that Arctic wild food harvesters have demonstrated significant adaptability in the face of changing resource conditions (Cruikshank 2001, Ford et al. 2006). Adjusting to accommodate changes to wild foods is likely one of the primary adaptations because harvesters can improvise strategies related to travel, such as deciding the mode of access, as opposed to confronting large-scale changes to biophysical habitat conditions. These current strategies suggest that there are adaptions being employed to manage changing conditions and are indicative of localized adaptive capacity to future climate change. Additionally, documents described several current broad-scale adaptation strategies that were being implemented and planned by organizations at the regional or state level. For example, regional food planning activities, such as harvest and storage workshops, were being organized across multiple communities (Appendix 1, #16, 65, 69). Several documents described local observers collecting information about environmental change that was then linked to regional observation networks (Appendix 1, #35, 36, 37, 39).

Our review also identified adaptation strategies that still need to be implemented including several proposed legal, policy, and management actions. For example, documents called for extending hunting seasons, increasing bag limits, and changing resource access regulations because of unusual weather patterns and the inability to meet harvest needs (Appendix #1, #2, 48, 65, 69, 73). Our results are consistent with other studies that have proposed changes to hunting seasons to increase local access to natural resources and allow for more adaptive regional wildlife management (McNeeley 2012). Many of the strategies that were not yet implemented were categorized as “broad-scale,” and needed to be coordinated and adopted at levels outside of local communities.

Barriers to adaptation

An increasing number of studies have identified commonly reported barriers to climate change adaptations (Biesbroek et al. 2013, Eisenack et al. 2014, Piggott-McKellar et al. 2019), including financial and institutional obstacles (Ekstrom and Moser 2014). Our review identified several local adaptation strategies, such as finding new areas to hunt or adopting new techniques to harvest wild foods that hinged on finding financial resources for implementation to happen on the ground. Barriers related to new economic costs were identified by > 30% documents. Increasing costs associated with accessing areas to hunt, such as requiring more expensive equipment and larger amounts of fuel, may prohibit traditional wild food gathering practices. One document asserted,

The increasing cost of participating in subsistence activities and dramatic changes in the social context of Arctic indigenous communities are causing a seeming decline in local fishing and hunting knowledge and level of participation in subsistence practices. (Appendix 1, Document #2)

Several reviewed documents also stated that the management of wild foods was hindered by outdated policies based on historical factors that do not account for climate change. This barrier was usually mentioned in relation to resource management and local access to subsistence resources. One document stated,

Adaptable legal and policy frameworks, many laws, regulations and policies on the federal, state, and local levels were developed for a static environment where climate change was not recognized. The challenge for government leaders and businesses will be to adapt to a future made less certain due to a more rapidly changing climate. This will necessitate an evaluation of existing laws, regulations and policies and possible changes to institutional, legal and policy frameworks in an adaptive manner. (Appendix 1, Document #8)

The failure to recognize localized problems is a common mismatch between scales of management institutions (Schultz et al. 2019). Documents recommended that local harvesters should be involved in the decision-making process. Such efforts can develop capacity for community-driven projects and create supportive relationships with a wider network of actors. One document stated,

It helps to have people working for land management agencies who have lived in the area for a long time, who know and understand the local way of life. Local people can also provide information about the land and resources that helps researchers and agencies do their work better. Can decision-making move to the community level in some way?” (Appendix 1, #69).

Finally, policy makers and managers must often make difficult decisions regarding natural resource populations based on past conditions with limited and often incomplete baseline data (Nichols et al. 2011). Several documents describe the need for better data on both biophysical habitat and socioeconomic conditions to make more informed decisions. Increased harvest reporting, in particular, was described as a tool needed to assess the variability and extent of adaptive uses of fish and wildlife resources.

Opportunities for future work and management directions

Our review highlights topics, scales of organization, and regions that could benefit from additional information to better understand wild food harvester needs as they relate to changing resource conditions. Opportunities for adaptation exist for resource managers and other local decision makers when management strategies are adaptive and incorporate an understanding of climate variability in conjunction with local observations and resource needs. It will be important for researchers and managers to consider resource availability and accessibility, which accounts for not only the abundance of wild foods, but also for seasonal variations, spatial distributions, and obstacles to access (Brown et al. 2015, Brinkman et al. 2016). The ability to predict altered spatial distributions varies dramatically by species (Sekercioglu et al. 2008), and presents challenges to managers developing and implementing comprehensive strategies that mitigate the effects of climate changes on wild foods. However, developing future distribution models for key wild foods (e.g., Baltensperger and Joly 2019) could help agencies start planning efforts to access new areas to allow hunting. Additionally, it is possible that climate change could produce dramatic changes in the abundance of new subsistence species that would prompt a reconsideration of available management actions. For example, new fishing opportunities are opening in the Arctic (Carothers et al. 2019); however, failure to effectively manage new species could result in conflict with commercial fisheries and lost food security opportunities. It is also conceivable that climate change, including increased precipitation and temperature, will produce widespread habitat changes that may provide new opportunities for harvest, but also new needs for adaptive habitat management.

Documents call for a more responsive system that is flexible and accounts for high resource variability. Harvesters have proposed or already adopted adaptation strategies to meet changing conditions, but their actions will need a regulatory system that is quick to respond to in-season changes to resources (McNeeley 2012). Researchers should consider whether localized, improvised adaptations are effectively meeting the needs of local harvesters, or if they are being hindered by adaptive mismatch across management entities, e.g., state/federal agencies. Future work could identify where mismatch is occurring for important wild foods and whether newly designed policy and management tools could further enhance local adaptations while maintaining the legal and policy obligations of the institution. Boundary work to support cross-scale arrangements such as improving communication across governance levels and local harvesters would greatly enhance future adaptive capacity (Cash et al. 2006). Additionally, scenario planning could also provide opportunities for communication between resource managers and local communities that will aid decision making under wild food resource uncertainty (Knapp et al. 2017).

Documents strongly voiced the need for new, adaptive decision-making strategies to manage fisheries, wildlife, and other wild foods resources. This result is consistent with the co-management literature that states that both local and indigenous knowledge can complement knowledge generation (Berkes 2009) and the management of wild food resources (Armitage 2005, Armitage et al. 2011). Knowledge partnerships in a management setting can bring together different entities, build trust, resolve conflict, and allow for more efficient joint problem solving (Kofinas 2009). Previous work has recommended that climate change science can be more relevant if it includes integration of different forms of knowledge, user driven science, and regionally grounded stakeholder suggestions (Dilling and Lemos 2011, Ford et al. 2013, Kalafatis et al. 2015, Stone 2020). Significant partnership with local communities can encourage user-driven science including products and deliverables that could be used by harvesters grappling with food insecurity, unsafe travel conditions, and maintaining cultural connections to the land (Chapin et al. 2016).

Limitations of research

In this review, we did not conduct a longitudinal analysis to assess how stakeholder needs and adaptation strategies changed over time. It is conceivable that contemporary needs have shifted in importance over the past decade or that harvester observations have fluctuated as they experience new conditions over time. Additionally, it is feasible that individuals, communities, and institutions have generated new adaptation strategies in the meantime that were not captured in this review. We also bounded our document search over a 10-year period (2008–2018) and only analyzed documents that met our search criteria. This left out meeting notes, e.g., subsistence resource committees, that may have been relevant but did not meet our criteria. Furthermore, stakeholders could have produced documents that were indirectly related to climate change or wild foods, but did not use our search terms and were subsequently missed in our web search. Here, we focused on the needs and adaptation strategies that were described most frequently across documents. We assumed that needs and adaptations that were more frequently expressed corresponded with a greater need, while others that were described less frequently, were not as important. It is also possible that the geographic distribution of the grey literature influenced the number of stated research needs. It was difficult to evaluate the variation in needs among regions because of the high proportion of documents created for multiple regions; however, our analysis does highlight places, e.g., Southcentral, where additional assessment might be needed. Finally, although we recognize that several partnerships have been implemented over the past decade targeting Alaskan climate change needs, it was not our intent to evaluate these, but to focus on what was being said by harvesters in the grey literature. Despite these challenges and assumptions, this review of the grey literature is a useful and available indicator of Alaskan harvester needs.


Amplified climate change in Alaska has altered the relationship between harvesters and local wild food resources. In wild food harvest systems, climate change directly impacts biophysical habitat conditions that are linked to species dynamics and the socioeconomic well-being of communities. Our review contributes to climate change needs and adaptation literature by examining a body of work, i.e., grey literature, to identify locally grounded observations of changing resource conditions and remaining information needs to inform direct actions. The findings from this study support recent research (McNeeley et al. 2012, Herman-Mercer et al. 2019) that wild food adaptation actions emerged locally, but broader legal, policy, and management frameworks were still needed to adapt to rapid climate change. The results demonstrate that coordination is required at regional and national levels to ensure wild food harvesters can adapt planning and management activities. This assessment has provided insight into the ways in which organizations may adapt to maintain food security, health, and cultural connections as an integral component to their lifestyle changes.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


This publication is the result in part of research sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants NA11OAR4310141 and NA16OAR4310162, the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Alaska Climate Adapters: Developing Community-Based Capacity to Meet Critical Adaptation Needs (2017-68002-26726), the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project 1018914, and the state of Alaska.


Document were derived from the following resources available in the public domain: document URLs can be found listed in Appendix 1:column 4.


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Baltensperger, A. P., and K. Joly. 2019. Using seasonal landscape models to predict space use and migratory patterns of an Arctic ungulate. Movement Ecology 7:18.

Berkes, F. 2009. Evolution of co-management: role of knowledge generation, bridging organizations, and social learning. Journal of Environmental Management 90:1692-1702.

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Address of Correspondent:
Casey L. Brown
1401 Gekeler Ln
La Grande, OR
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