A Collaboration with Rural Alaskans: The Driftwood Harvest in a Changing Climate

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 10:00 AM AKDT
Dr. Chas Jones, ORISE Post-doctoral Research Fellow, US Environmental Protection Agency

This study examined flood events in the Yukon River with the goal of understanding how actual or perceived changes in driftwood availability are related to river hydrology and how future changes in hydrology may affect the driftwood harvest. We combined information gathered from informant interviews, USGS gauging stations, U.S. Census data, and numerical models of past driftwood harvest rates to estimate changes in future driftwood harvest rates. We determined that neither average date of spring break-up nor the June Rise floods had changed significantly between 1977 and 2012, but the date of the June Rise had become much more variable since 1993. Our model indicated that hydrologic factors alone were responsible for a small (3%) decrease in the annual wood harvest. However, the installation in the village of wood-fired boilers in 2007 increased the annual community demand by more than 80%. Thus, greater uncertainty of accessing driftwood has been accompanied by a higher demand for this important fuel source. We also identify a driftwood harvest threshold and suggest that when flows exceed 325,000 cfs at the USGS Gaging Station at Stevens Village on the Yukon River, driftwood can be predicted to flow past Tanana approximately 2 days later. Modeling various climate scenarios illustrate how the driftwood model estimates that increasing hydrologic variability would be expected to increase vulnerability of the driftwood harvest. Examination of the economics associated with using driftwood versus fuel alternatives shows that other wood sources require more time and money to harvest. Furthermore, the use of oil or electricity as alternative fuels cost substantially more, but save considerable amounts of time.

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