President Barack Obama signed an executive order on December 9th, deeming the area from the Bering Strait to north of Bristol Bay in Alaska, as a “climate resilience area.”
This was in response to appeals from Alaska Native villages that depend on the Bering Sea ecosystem for survival. This gives natives more of a say in the federal management of the marine resources they depend on.
Environment of the Region
The area supports one of the world’s largest annual marine mammal migration locations for whales, Pacific walrus, ice seals and migratory birds, which Alaskan tribes depend on for subsistence living.
Unfortunately, it has been subject to dramatic changes due to climate change, mainly sea ice forming during late winter and disappearing in early spring.
These changes in ice have affected migration patterns of marine mammals, thereby affecting hunting yields of the Alaskan people.
This loss of sea ice has created opportunities for cargo traffic, offshore petroleum drilling, tourism and other commercial activities, which worried Alaskan natives about the safety of their food supply.
After Kawerak Inc., a regional non-profit corporation and the Bering Sea Elders Group appealed to Obama to protect the Alaskan people’s rights to a say in the management of their natural habitat, Obama granted that by designating all 112,300 square miles of the area a “climate resilience area.”
This executive order now requires “focused federal consultation with Alaskan tribes and 39 communities that line the west coast of Alaska, along with state officials,” according to ABCnews.
It also withdraws 40,300 square miles of the area (Norton Basin and the offshore area around St. Matthew Island) from federal petroleum leasing, as the two areas are already recognized as main marine mammal hunting areas for the Alaskan communities.
The director of the Native Vullage of Kwigillingok, Fred Philip said that Obama is now the first president of the US “to require native people’s traditional knowledge to be applied to federal land management,” saying “this is real progress,” especially after the three-month long protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline.