Blueberry plant with berries in fall colors. (High resolution image) Crowberry plant with berries. (High resolution image)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey today announced the publication of a new study examining how Alaska’s tribal environmental managers and local observer networks view statewide trends in wild berry harvests. Survey results, completed by 96 individuals in 73 communities across Alaska, indicated that wild berry harvests were less reliable than in the past.
“The survey highlights the importance of wild berries to rural Alaskans and found that many people perceive that there have been changes in the productivity of some wild berries in the past decade,” said Jerry Hupp, wildlife biologist with the USGS Alaska Science Center and lead author of the study.
Hupp worked on the project with Kira Wilkinson, a student with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to query local environmental observers across Alaska about berries that were important to their communities and whether berry harvests had changed over time. The researchers found that important species of berries differed among ecological regions of Alaska. Sixty-seven percent of observers perceived that harvests of important berries had declined or become more variable in the past decade.
“This study is an example of how tribal environmental managers and other local experts can report on the status of wild resources in rural Alaska,” said Mike Brubaker, co-author of the study and director of the Center for Climate and Health at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which oversees the Local Environmental Observer Network or LEO Network.
The authors conclude that monitoring and experimental studies are needed to understand how climate change may affect the species of wild berries that are important to Alaskans. They also recommended that methods by which rural communities can increase their resilience to declining or more variable berry harvests be explored.
Interactive observations of the LEO Network are available online. The project was sponsored by the USGS Alaska Science Center, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s LEO Network.