Current Projects


The Imuruk Basin Subsistence Protection Project

A Canadian based mining company’s proposal to develop a vertically integrated mine located 37 miles north of Nome at the base of the Kigluaik Mountains is directly threatening the subsistence resources that Alaska Native Tribes have depended on for milennia.  The “Graphite Creek” Project, named after one of the many small salmon bearing creeks that drain the mountain range, would involve the processing and manufacture of high grade coated spherical graphite primarily for lithium-ion electric batteries, to capitalize on a potential supply crunch from China and a growing appetite for electric vehicles.

Since 2012, as part of Graphite Creek mining exploration activities, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has allowed the company to divert up to 130,000 gallons of water per day from several creeks and ponds without requiring the company to obtain a permit. Concerned about the impacts of such water withdrawals on fish and wildlife habitat, the Tribes formed the Imuruck Basin Inter Tribal Watershed Council (IBITWC) to address these and other water and subsistence related issues. 

 

Between 2018 and 2020, the IBITWC took a number of actions in order to protect Tribal subsistence resources. These actions included sending a letter to the Nome Office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) requesting that they amend the Habitat Permit to ensure adequate flows for salmon in the Creeks affected by the TWUAs, pointing out that the ADF&G Permit and the TWUAs decision require the agency to take action to limit potential impacts to salmon and other species that may occur under the TWUAs decision. 

ADF&G responded that it believes the activities of the mining company “will not impact the fish in Hot Springs Creek.” However, this conclusion was reached without collecting any data on the Creek nor visiting the site. During a hearing last fall, Sen. Don Olson stated that “If the community does not want this mine, it should not go through.” The IBITWC, therefore, requested that Sen. Olson take whatever measures he can to encourage the DNR, ADF&G and/or the Mining Company to work with the Tribes to protect salmon habitat in the Creeks in order to preserve vital subsistence resources. NBITWC continues to closely monitor this project and coordinate the response by the Tribes. 

North Bering Sea Tribal Climate Self Determination Project

The Norton Bay Inter Tribal Watershed Council has kicked off its project to address the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM’s) recent 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program which proposes to revive a long-abandoned government campaign to encourage oil and gas drilling in the North Bering Sea Region (NBSR)

As part of the Project the NBITWC will: 1) Partner with the tribal entities located in the NBSR (Tribes) in submitting comments to BOEM on the Leasing Program and; 2) Continue working with the Alaska Delegation and Governor Walker to request that the NBSR Leases be removed from the Proposal; 3) Work with Senator Murkowski regarding her commitment to the Tribes to use legislation to require that Department of Interior policies be vetted by the Tribes and that analysis consider Traditional Ecological Knowledge and;

4) Hold DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke accountable to his commitment to bring Alaska Tribes to the table before making any decisions to open more areas in the NBSR to oil and gas leasing, including engaging in Government-to-Government (G2G) Consultation with tribal entities in order to discuss the potential impacts on subsistence resources and human health and welfare and; 5) Work with government agencies and other stakeholders to establish local oil and gas clean-up emergency response teams in the NBSR. (This Project is funded in part by the Unitarian Universalist Fund for Just Society).

Norton Bay Climate Risk Assessment Project

Beginning in 2010, the Norton Bay Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (NBITWC) and the Native Villages of Elim, Koyuk, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik initiated a  Norton Sound adaptation planning process using the “Steps to Resilience” under the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit including: 1) Explore Hazards; 2) Assess Vulnerability and Risks; 3) Investigate Options; 4) Prioritize and Plan; and 5) Take Action.

In 2011, as part of Step 1: “Explore Hazards”, the Native Village of Elim (NVE) and the NBITWC worked with partners to monitor environmental conditions and initiated a planning effort to identify risk from climate change and potential mining development activities within the Norton Bay Watershed (Watershed). The results were an Assessment of Mining Impacts on Subsistence Ecosystems of the Tubutulik River Watershed; the Quality Assurance Project Plan for the NVE Tubutulik River Subsistence Protection Project; and the NVE Instream Flow Water Reservation Application (Planning Documents).  

 These documents were developed using both Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and contemporary science, and included the local community in decision making by holding community gatherings and participating in public gatherings. The planning effort also included surveys designed to gather TEK, and documentation of observations and concerns, as well as success stories. Data on water flow, quality and temperature were also applied to the Planning Documents to address the potential impacts of mining activity and climate change on subsistence resources and human health and welfare within the Tubutulik River Watershed.

As part of Step 2: “Assess Vulnerability and Risks”, the NBITWC and partners engaged the Climate Solutions University (CSU) Adaptation Plan Development Program created by the Model Forest Policy Program (MFPP) to develop the Norton Bay Climate Change Adaption Plan (NBCCAP). This process engaged an array of stakeholders and expertise in building partnerships, gathering extensive information, thinking critically, and planning focused on a community-based team effort. The result was a regional action plan that the Norton Bay community and supporters are working to implement. 

As part of Step 3: “Investigate Options”, NBITWC and NVE, with grant funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Resilience Program, presented a climate adaptation planning curriculum from July 2016 through May 2017. The curriculum informed and guided Alaskan Native community leaders and staff to develop Localized Climate Change Adaptation Plans (LCCAPs) by assessing local climate risks; developing strategies to address those risks; and building the information, funding, and resource capacity to take action for climate adaptation and community resilience. Participants in the curriculum gained a clear understanding of the impacts from climate change in Alaska, locally specific climate risks, and adaptation options to address risks.

To engage in Step 4: “Prioritize and Plan”, NBITWC will continue our efforts to assist the Villages with climate resiliency planning. To this end, the Norton Sound Local Climate Change Adaption Planning Project will support the creation of climate-resilient action plans for Alaska Native Villages in the Norton Sound. Using a step by step process, participants will be provided with the information and tools needed to write a local adaptation plan and be ready to move into Step 5: “Take Action” in a variety of ways that make sense for their community.

In addition, NBITWC and our village partners have obtained funding to assist the Villages in applying for Hazard Mitigation Planning and to apply existing water quality and quantity baseline data; climate change scenarios, maps, background information and research; watershed assessments; and planning documents to take specific actions that will protect rivers and streams that support fish and wildlife habitat and subsistence uses, from climate change and development of related temperature increases and low flows using habitat improvement measures.

Finally, the NBITWC is engaging in a dialogue with other indigenous communities and nations, including the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Arctic Circle, the Group on Earth Observations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the European Polar Board (EPB) and the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON), NBITWC to help the Villages respond and adapt to climate change.

The Norton Bay Inter-Tribal Watershed Council organizes public gatherings to address issues that are impacting the Arctic. Civilized settlements and communities are witnessing their crucial infrastructure threatened by storm surges, eroding coastlines, degrading sea walls, melting sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers. Species in the Arctic are impacted by warming ocean temperatures and dramatic loss of sea ice. 

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