Kake Climate Partnership: co-producing climate research in Southeast Alaska

Kake, Alaska

Kake is situated in the heart of Southeast Alaska, at the confluence of three major bodies of water: Frederick Sound, Chatham Strait, and Keku Strait. The Tribe and community in Kake are concerned about how the saltwater and freshwater environments surrounding their traditional food harvesting areas are impacted by global climate change and by local stressors in the form of pollution.

Elizabeth Figus was hired as a postdoctoral fellow at ACCAP, to carry out a climate change case study using an Indigenous partnership co-production process. Elizabeth reached out to the Organized Village of Kake (a Federally recognized Tribe in Southeast Alaska), to ask if they might consider partnering on a co-production process around climate change resilience and adaptation. In January 2020, the Organized Village of Kake Council voted to become formal partners with ACCAP and extended an invitation to the Kake Tribal Corporation and the City of Kake to join the research partnership. The Kake Tribal Corporation Board and the Kake City Council subsequently voted to join the Kake Climate Partnership. The Kake Climate Partnership has two ongoing research projects aimed at characterizing impacts of climate variability on traditional foods.

Project 1. Ocean Monitoring The ocean waters around Kake are used for harvesting traditional foods, supporting commercial fishing, maintenance of aquatic life, shipping, and small- and large-scale recreation/tourism. These waters influence the safety of local fish and shellfish for consumption. Our team is documenting key climate and pollutant indicators (pH, salinity, temperature, ammonia, nitrogen, fecal coliform, saxitoxin, dissolved metals, and mercury) that may impact the safety of consuming fish and shellfish in waters around Kake. During the 2020 field season, we collected robust baseline data during this year of unprecedented low vessel traffic throughout the region due to COVID-19. Our team collected 25 sets of water samples at two sample sites (one onshore and one offshore) and nine mussel (Mytilus edulis; yaak) samples from two sample sites onshore.

Project 2. Freshwater Monitoring The freshwater stream systems in and around Kake are used for harvesting traditional foods (e.g., salmon), supporting a fish hatchery operation, maintenance of aquatic life, and small-scale recreation/tourism. In recent years, increasingly unstable weather patterns, including seasonal drought conditions, have led to large variations in stream depth and temperature. Previous logging and clearcutting operations across Kupreanof Island have left some streams in need of restoration. There is also potential that pollutants may be entering stream systems via runoff from the town dump. The Tribe and community in Kake are concerned about how climate change coupled with local stressors may be impacting the ability of Portage and Slo Duc Creeks to sustain stable and healthy salmon runs. Phase 1 of this project will focus on interviewing Elders about the salmon in Portage and Slo Duc Creeks. In Phase 2 of this project, our team will collect water samples to document key climate and pollutant indicators that might be affecting the ability of salmon to survive and thrive in Portage and Slo Duc Creeks