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Project recognized for researcher-community partnerships



Fairbanks, Alaska—A cooperative study led by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences will be among 17 honored by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The Subsistence Sharing Network Project will receive the Secretary’s Partners in Conservation Award, which is granted to organizations that demonstrate exemplary collaboration and unique investigations.

Begun on the North Slope in 2008, the project was headed by associate professor Gary Kofinas and postdoctoral researcher Shauna BurnSilver. Dee Williams of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement built the project on 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 encouraged local residents to participate and understood the value of documenting their subsistence systems using quantitative research methods.

“The effort modeled good research partnerships with communities, which is what our university tries to do,” Kofinas said.

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 social network analysis to document and analyze subsistence food sharing networks, cooperative hunting, participation in the cash economy and issues of food security.

The project provides a new way to quantify the traditional values of cooperative and reciprocal relationships among Alaska Native people. The study identifies how these relationships contribute to the resilience of rural communities, as well as the vulnerabilities of resident households, as they face 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 worked as research associates alongside UAF graduate students to conduct interviews. The result was a high survey response rate: 92 percent of all household heads in two of the communities and 80 percent of the third.

The project provides baseline data that will help monitor change and potential effects of climate change and anticipated oil and gas development, both onshore and offshore, in the North Slope Borough.

The project involved many community, tribal, state and federal agencies, 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).

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