Hunting Under Changing Conditions in Ulukhaktok

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Hunting Under Changing Conditions in Ulukhaktok Climate change impacts on Inuit subsistence activities over an 11-year period

o a high dependence on a rapidly-changing environment for subsistence-based livelihoods (e.g. hunting, trapping, shing). Given the projections for future climate change impacts in the Arctic, Inuit will have to continue to build on he tremendous ability to adapt that they have shown so far.


How Inuit experience and respond to climate change is affected by a variety of non-climate factors. In order for adapation interventions to be relevanthow to communities, we need a better understanding of how Inuit are experiencing and This research examines Inuit in This research was conducted by David esponding to climate change over time. In particular, we need to understand how climate and non-climate conditions Ulukhaktok, located in the Inuvialuit Settlement Fawcett and Dr. Tristan Pearce with the nteract and affect to climate change. research community seeks to understand how climate change affects Inuit Region in responses the western Canadian Arctic,This adapt of Ulukhaktok. Significant nd-based whatconditions aids or constrains responses time. to activities changing and climatic over time. We over contributions were made by many conducted 32 interviews with Inuit in Ulukhaktok in 2016 and compared findings with data collected in the community in 2005. We also used longitudinal sea ice, harvest, and economic datasets to help understand change over time. We focus specifically on subsistence activities – hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering – consistent with the 2005 study.

community members including local research partners (Roland Notaina and Patrick Kitok Akhiatak) and Adam Kudlak. Dr. James Ford and Dr. Peter Collings also made significant contributions to the development and completion of this research.

Figure: Sources of data and information.

Cover photo: Adam Kolouhok Kudlak retrieves a ringed seal near Ulukhaktok (credit: Tristan Pearce).

“The weather’s really easy to change. Unpredictable. Even right now the weather changes just like that. Last week we were just down at our cabin and the wind just shifted, just like that, from the west to the east.”

Findings Compromised trails and increased risks

Flexibility and precautions

Changing environmental conditions such as increasingly strong and more consistent winds, earlier and more rapid spring melts, later freezeup and earlier break-up of sea ice, and less stable sea ice conditions are making travel to some hunting areas more difficult, dangerous, expensive, and sometimes impossible. For example, winds, which have always affected travel, have become stronger and more consistent in recent years, creating challenges for summer boat travel. Some hunters reported being unable to travel as often due to wind conditions, and others have become stranded on the land for long periods of time.

With weather conditions becoming more unpredictable, hunters are taking more precautions before and during travel. Hunters reported taking more supplies and gas than they need and some hunters now carry satellite phones as a means of communication if they run into bad weather. Flexibility, however, comes at a cost, and not all hunters are able to afford the financial burden of extra fuel, supplies, or communication technology.

Climate and non-climate pressures continue to impact wildlife The in-migration of new species, environmental changes, and non-climate pressures are impacting the quality and availability of some species of wildlife important for subsistence. This is particularly relevant in the case of muskox, which are a key source of food and income but are getting more difficult to find, requiring increased travel distance, time and finances to purchase the needed fuel and supplies to hunt them.

Financial and time constraints Hunting is expensive and the cost of supplies, equipment and fuel have increased over time. Changing environmental conditions have also affected some trails on the land, sea and ice, forcing hunters to take alternative routes that require more time and fuel. Time constraints, due to employment and school, limit hunters to shorter trips and sometimes force travel in risky conditions. Financial constraints can make the high costs of fuel and supplies unaffordable for some hunters, limiting their hunting activity or increasing the likelihood of running out of supplies on the land and being forced to travel back, sometimes in dangerous weather conditions. Time and finances also limit participation in land-based activities, which may disrupt the transmission of environmental knowledge and land skills that are important for adaptability.

Photo: Adam Kolouhok Kudlak near Ulukhaktok (credit: Tristan Pearce).

“Yeah, especially the muskox now. They’re starting to get further and further. You’ve got to get more than five gallons to go out there and back, unless you get lucky and it’s like two or three miles out of town.”

Findings Tension between the subsistence and wage economies The time and financial requirements of hunting, the need for hunters to have some source of income, and limited subsistencecompatible sources of income are increasing the tension between the subsistence and wage economies. As a result, increased time and labour are required to produce the income necessary to hunt, which can restrict the ability to remain flexible in response to changing environmental conditions. This constrains adaptability, and affects engagment with the environment and how climate change is experienced and responded to.

Changes in the transmission and generation of traditional knowledge and land skills Inuit traditional knowledge and land skills help hunters adapt to changing conditions. However, the generation and transmission of these skills are constrained as fewer community members are able to travel consistently or as far due to increasing time and/or financial constraints.

Sharing networks are changing Sharing networks provide community members with country foods who may otherwise go without. Some community members reported that sharing networks are now smaller and are pooling resources, particularly monetary resources, to enable a few hunters to remain active. Some hunters have also started to individually market country food in response to increasing hunting costs and demand for country food.

Wildlife bans have affected income The end of the local polar bear sport hunt (2008 U.S. Fish and Wildlife ban on trophy importation) also ended what was a source of subsistence-compatible income for some hunters, guiding sport hunts. Respondents reported that this has also led to increased competition for guide and helper commissions for the muskox sport hunt and increased pressure on muskox as a source of income.

Photo: Roland Notaina hunting muskox near Ulukhaktok (credit: Tristan Pearce).

“Trying to make money to support your family and trying to make money for gas to go get the food that you like to eat. Sometimes it’s tough. But we always manage to find ways to get out there, somehow.”

Policy Responses

Supporting access to country foods

Harvester assistance programs

Adaptation interventions need to address the tension between the subsistence and wage economies by supporting access to country food and the upkeep of sharing networks. Initiatives such as community hunts increase social capital throughout the community and increase access to country food, especially for elders, single mothers, and others who cannot access the land consistently. However, broader conservation goals, economic sustainability, and nurturing long-term adaptive capacity in the community need to also be considered.

Policy needs to address the root challenge to country food access: constraints on hunters. This will involve addressing the growing financial constraints of subsistence. As the costs of hunting have increased, the Inuvialuit and Community Harvesters Assistance Programs (IHAP and CHAP) have become more important and the number of applications has steadily risen. Funding, however, has remained relatively static over at least the past seven years. Therefore, increasing the funding of these programs represents a feasible entry point to address the financial constraints of some hunters.

Cooperative equipment and outpost camps

Environmental knowledge and land skills

Shared access to technology (e.g. GPS, VHF, satellite phones) has proven beneficial in other Inuit communities across the Arctic. Ensuring access to communication equipment can enable communication if a hunter is in a critical situation or is stuck, reducing critical exposures and instances where Search and Rescue is necessary. Cooperative equipment has also been proposed in several other Arctic settings and could be an adaptation entry point in Ulukhaktok. Cooperative equipment would increase access to, and flexibility on, the land for some individuals, thereby facilitating the generation and transmission of environmental knowledge and land skills. Finally, several active hunters in Ulukhaktok proposed communal outpost camps that may have caches of supplies. This would further reduce financial constraints to hunting.

Adaptation initiatives need to focus on nurturing existing adaptive capacity in Ulukhaktok, especially increasing opportunities for learning and sharing knowledge and skills. In particular, there needs to be more opportunities for safe exposure to changing conditions in order to develop the capacity necessary to interact with new environmental conditions as they arise. Entry points include increasing ‘on the land’ or ‘young hunters’ programs in Ulukhaktok such as the Health Canada funded Nunamin Ilihakvia and TUMIVUT programs.

Data Table: Description of key exposure-sensitivities documented during interviews with respondents in Ulukhaktok in 2005 and 2016. Exposure-sensitivities 2005 Compromised travel routes and increased risk • Early and rapid spring melt • Longer autumn, and less snow in some years • Sea ice taking longer to freeze and melting earlier, impacting subsistence activities • Variable wind in summer presents challenges • Rapid transitions and hazardous conditions leads to more hunters being stranded or injured

Quality and availability of wildlife • Decrease in number and condition of ringed seals and Peary caribou • Limited access to Dolphin Union caribou due to wind, distance, and equipment requirements • Access to eider ducks restricted by changes to sea ice, wind, and boat cost/access • Shift from caribou to muskox, but muskox are getting further away

2016 Compromised travel routes and increased risk • Spring melt is early and becoming very rapid • Snow fall is occurring later and affects travel • Trend towards later sea ice freeze-up and earlier break-up • Sea ice is thinner leading to a greater flux in safe conditions and more travel on land in winter • Winds are stronger and more consistent, leading to smaller windows of opportunity and higher precautionary costs Quality and availability of wildlife • Fewer seals, partially due to sea ice decline • Wind conditions make caribou hunting more dangerous, costly, and cause time constraints • Changes to sea ice and shorter migration window are restricting access to eider ducks • Muskox are further away/fewer, leading to less hunting success and access constraints Financial and time restraints • Time and financial constraints are sometimes forcing travel in risky conditions

Figure: Changes to sea ice freeze-up (top of graphs) and break-up (bottom) from six important hunting or travel areas from 1968-2016.

Table: Description of key adaptive strategies and constraints documented in Ulukhaktok in 2005 and 2016. Adaptive strategies and adaptation constraints 2005 Extra precautions • Taking extra precautions and supplies/gas • Travel in groups and closer to town • Increasing use of communication or navigation technology Alternative transportation and routes • Increasing use of boats in shoulder seasons as ice melts earlier – costs can restrict access • Shift from caribou to muskox • Change routes and locations Food sharing and diet change • Important adaptive strategy, starting to be restricted • Changes to species harvested • Supplement diet with store food Capital resources and time • Finances constrain adaptive strategies (e.g. flexibility), limit participation in subsistence • Time constrains land-based activities and causes conflicts with unpredictable weather • Polar bear sport hunt is an important source of income Traditional ecological knowledge • Crucial to adaptive capacity, but transmission is no longer functioning as effectively as previouslyeviously

2016 Extra precautions • More precautionary supplies required, sometimes constraining adequate preparation • Increased avoidance of risky conditions • Travel in groups or communicate travel plans • Technology is widely used, often within the context of individual environmental skills and knowledge Flexibility • Under constant pressure, more difficult to be flexible • Flexible equipment use (e.g. caribou hunt by ATV) Sharing networks • Increased concentration on family units to enable a few hunters to be active Community hunts • Provide those who may not otherwise have access to a reliable source of country food with food Hunting economics and time requirements • Finances and time increasingly constrain adaptive strategies, limit activities, or cause conflicts with unpredictable weather • Loss of polar bear sport hunt has constrained income and increased pressure on muskox • Local commercialization of country food Traditional ecological knowledge • Transmission is problematic and compounded by other factors (e.g. increasing costs) that limit land-based activities

Figure: Changes in gasoline, oil, and naphtha prices in Ulukhaktok during the study period (in Canadian dollars per litre).

The insights, support, and generous hospitality provided by the residents of Ulukhaktok, and the Ulukhaktok Hunters and Trappers Committee and Ulukhaktok Community Corporation are gratefully acknowledged, particularly the contributions of Robert and Agnes Kuptana, Jack Akhiatak, and Patrick Joss.

This research is a part of ArcticNet Project 1.1: Community Vulnerability, Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change in the Arctic. It was conducted under Aurora Research Institute Scientific Research License #15913 and Human Research Ethics Approval, University of Guelph #16MR034. Inspiration for this design is accredited to Sara Statham and Will Vanderbilt.

For more information about this research, contact David Fawcett (