ISER’s Jennifer Schmidt gave presentations at the recent Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway on the role of technology in remote Arctic communities and how harvesting wood for fuel impacts subsistence.

Arctic Frontiers brings together academic researchers along with government and business decision makers to promote responsible and sustainable development of the Arctic.

In the presentation, “Can my GPS lead me to a sustainable future? The role of technology and lessons from three remote Arctic communities,” Schmidt, along with co-presenters Dr. Chris Monz of Utah State University, and Dr. Vera Hausner of the University of Tromso, presented results from interviews with residents of Noatak, Noorvik, and Brevig Mission on their values and beliefs regarding technology, climate change, and subsistence.

three dimensional plot graph showing perspective of technology in alaska villagesResearchers found that over the last decade technology has helped residents to locate animals, made hunting easier, and increased communication. But the downsides included cost and increased vulnerability. Just under half of those surveyed thought technology could help with climate-change related problems such as open water and river and lake navigability. In addition, technology helped provide a Western education to youth, but also made youth less involved in the subsistence lifestyle.

While technology is not having as large of a positive effect on rural Alaska as many would think, researchers suggested that changing the focus of technology to the top concerns in these rural communities: jobs/economy, education, and subsistence, may lead to more positive outcomes. No matter how technology is employed, researchers found that maintaining knowledge from elders is still very important.

Wood harvest overlaps nicely with subsistenceSchmidt’s second presentation, “Fuel, Wood Use, and Subsistence,” looked at results from interviews with 61 households in Tanana regarding the community’s use of biomass for heating, wood harvesting, and how these intersect with a subsistence lifestyle.

Schmidt and her co-presenters, Amanda Byrd, Biomass Coordinator for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), Dr. Todd Brinkman of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), Gwen Holdmann, ACEP director, Alana Vilagi, ACEP research assistant, and Baxter Bond, ACEP student researcher, presented results showing that wood harvest, biomass and subsistence go together nicely.

People who do subsistence typically have equipment needed to harvest wood, there is plenty of wood available and the harvest does not compete with subsistence harvests. In addition, without access or use of wood, energy costs of living in Tanana would be prohibitive.