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ISU professor studies how oil development may affect Alaska’s native communities

Posted October 8, 2008

How gas and oil exploration off of the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands could affect the subsistence activities of Alaska Native communities is the topic of a $339,793 contract awarded to Idaho State University Department of Anthropology faculty member Kate Reedy-Maschner.

Kate Reedy-MaschnerThe U.S. Department of Interior Minerals Management Service awarded the three-year study contract.  

“The study is to be done in the villages closest to the proposed offshore oil and gas development in the North Aleutian Basin,” said Reedy-Maschner, contract principle investigator. “We will be assessing current individual and community subsistence uses and local resilience in the context of changes or disruptions that may occur in the development process.”

The ISU researcher will be studying the Aleut and Alutiiq villages of Port Heiden, Nelson Lagoon, False Pass and Akutan, all located on the Bering Sea (north) side of the Aleutian Island chain. The largest village has about 125 residents.

“These villages are remote, located on the Alaska Peninsula and in the Aleutian Islands west of Bristol Bay, Alaska,” Reedy-Maschner said. “This is such a volatile place with sea ice and wind. Numerous species migrate through the region, including many species of waterfowl and sea mammals, as well as all five species of Pacific salmon. There are also halibut, crab and cod fisheries.”

    The research team will be taking a series of trips to the individual villages beginning in a few months.

They will complete ethnographic interviews with tribal members, and survey all the adults in each village about their subsistence harvest practices. They will attempt to assess the baseline subsistence needs and activities, including hunting and fishing activities, carried out by the residents.

The researchers will also try to predict how the villages would respond if there was a disruption created by oil and gas exploration.

“This is in an area where drilling for oil had never previously been considered because of the importance of the wild resources,” Reedy-Maschner said. “Those activities could potentially bring great changes to the residents of these small villages and this study is one of the steps being taken to help gauge those changes.”