The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is seeking more participants for the Local Environmental Observer program, which collects observations from around the state about unusual or extreme environmental occurrences and changes. Since the program began in January, 130 tribal environmental leaders from 85 communities around the state have registered as LEOs. ANTHC’s director for the Center for Climate and Health Mike Brubaker says the LEOs serve as central points for collecting observations from everyone in the community.
“In some places in the circumpolar north changes are happening very rapidly, and elders have long-term perspective on what’s going and what’s unusual and what’s important. But, even young people have sometimes seen some pretty amazing changes or have observed new occurrences, and they’re also engaging with their environment in different ways than the elders are.”
LEOs are interested in things varying from sightings of invasive species, unusual birds, insects, or other wildlife; changes in wildlife behavior and health; and extreme weather events or extreme erosion.
The LEOs collect the information then submit them to a central database where they are listed on the program’s website. Brubaker explained that forming a communal database helps connect LEOs with topic experts.
“There was an interesting posting that came from Southeast about loss of hair in deer. That resulted in some really interesting conversations about the types of causes of hair loss in deer not only in Alaska and Southeast but in BC,” he said.
They can also see if there are any larger environmental trends going on, connect affected communities, and raise awareness about different topics. “We think that’s really important within the tribal health system because sometimes it results in concerns about water safety and security and food safety and security. We learn things about risk for injury, for example the seasonality of when falls through ice are occurring.”
All of the reports are documented on the program’s website. You can click on a map of Alaska and it will tell you what observations were made in different areas each month. Currently Southeast has LEOs in Ketchikan, Craig, and Yakutat.