Human-Fire Interactions in the Boreal Forest of Alaska
Sarah F. Trainor1, F. Stuart Chapin1, Michele Bifelt2, Monika Calef3, La’Ona DeWilde4, Nancy Fresco1, A. David McGuire5, Henry Huntington6, Orville Huntington7, Amy Lovecraft1, David C. Natcher8, Joanna Nelson9, T. Scott Rupp1, Anthony Starfield10, Josh Wisniewski1, Erika Zavaleta9.
1University of Alaska Fairbanks; 2Fairbanks Northstar Borough School District; 3State University of New York at Albany; 4Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council; 5United States Geological Survey; 6Huntington Consulting; 7Alaska Native Science Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 8Memorial University, St. Johns, Newfoundland; 9University of California Santa Cruz; 10University of Minnesota
Human-ecological interactions are increasingly recognized as a central feature of the dynamics of systems that have been traditionally studied separately by ecologists and social scientists. In Interior Alaska these human-environment interactions are particularly striking because (1) this region has been occupied by Athabascan Indians who maintain a cultural and nutritional connection to the land that extends back for thousands of years, and (2) this human-ecological interaction is rapidly changing due to global human impacts on climate, economics and culture. In this paper we summarize the approach, methods, and results of an interdisciplinary study of human-fire interactions in Interior Alaska. Because the physical effects of climate warming disproportionately impact northern latitudes, increases in wildfire frequency, severity, duration and total area burned are among the most significant recent and expected ecological changes. Given these changes, we describe how humans have impacted the fire regime of Alaska. We also discuss wildfire effects on social and economic systems in the boreal forest and the options that communities and resource management agencies have to plan for resilience in the face of these social, ecological and climatic changes.
Key outcomes of this interdisciplinary project that are relevant to the overall study of coupled social-ecological systems include: 1) the adaptation and application of qualitative archival data as inputs for a spatially explicit vegetation succession model (ALFRESCO); 2) the discovery of temporal and spatial variance in key variables and drivers of the social – ecological system and; 3) the analysis of the importance of cross-scale interactions in planning for social – ecological resilience in the face of directional change.