Open Access: Community Restoration in Utqiaġvik, AK
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Posted by: Keith MacCallum
The North Slope Borough of Alaska is nearly the size of Michigan and is classified almost entirely as wetlands, giving “wetland enhancement” a new meaning. Located at the northern-most latitude in the United States, the Native village Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) is entirely surrounded by wetlands. The wet permafrost landscape, the mosquitoes it hosts, and the polar bears that occasionally wander onto land, challenge even the most intrepid traveler. The Iñupiaq people have a history of traveling far to camp in the summer to gather fish and wild plants to store for the long winter, but this tradition was mostly lost following the oil boom in the region and a switch to a cash economy. While generations of Iñupiat have subsisted on a diet of mostly meat and fat, plants have always played a special role, though in much smaller quantities than animal-based sources of food. To serve the residents of Utqiaġvik, my crew of local teenagers and I built a unique botanical garden emphasizing edible plants, of which were collected from the surrounding area. The project was meant to support public health, to serve as an Indigenous teaching instrument, and to act as an inspirational and interactive exhibit. The garden encourages people to reacquaint themselves with tundra plants and provides a means for elders who are no longer physically mobile to share their knowledge across generations without having to travel far. It is a place to learn about the plants, and the garden provides an accessible learning space for both locals and visitors to the community.
Speaker bio: Lorene Lynn is a soil scientist and restoration ecologist who specializes in permafrost characterization, tundra rehabilitation, and boreal forest restoration. She primarily works for oil and gas, government, and community clients in the Arctic and for mining, government, and private clients throughout Alaska. Lorene is a federally appointed member and Chair of the Science Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) for the North Slope Science Initiative (NSSI). Previously, she worked for HDR, the NRCS Soil Survey, and the USFWS. Her graduate studies on coastal erosion along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska sparked a career in which she rarely experiences heat, instead working in a parka in the Arctic in the months most people associate with summer. She lives in Palmer, Alaska with her husband and dog. Her two children have launched lives of their own in Alaska.