Programs :

Environmental Program


The Tribe has participated in the U.S. EPA Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP) since 1997, when the current Environmental Program (EP) director Alex Whiting Environmental Specialist (ES) was hired to develop the program for the Tribe. The purpose of the program in the uniquely situated Alaska villages (as compared to lower 48 reservation tribes) is to address environmental issues that are a priority for the Tribe while building capacity to undertake environmental activities.

The Tribe has no legal jurisdiction to authorize federal permitting in the community, or surrounding area, and is also not in control of the waste handling, or water treatment facilities. The municipal government undertakes these responsibilities/issues through the City of Kotzebue Public Works. However, we have engaged in cooperative relationships over the life of our IGAP participation with state, federal and local entities as briefly reviewed below. The Tribe has and continues to work in the area of environmental education and informing our citizen population in order for them to more effectively participate in public policy that will impact their environment. The Tribe asserts that the activities undertaken with the IGAP have always supported various goals and strategies of the USEPA and that program implementation has led to real improvements in the environment of our citizens and in their environmental awareness and ability to understand and participate in the efforts to protect and improve the environment they live in and depend on.

What We Do

Priorities were developed during the first year of the Tribes GAP grant in 1998 after an environmental assessment was completed by surveying our citizenship and Tribal Council about their concerns and areas to focus on. A Tribal environmental action plan was developed and instituted after the assessment was completed. The Tribes EP has continued to focus on these initial areas and broaden the scope as progress on these topics has been made and as new concerns were brought to light, or given a high priority by the citizenship and Council. Building the capacity of the Tribe to direct research projects (including building a large cadre of tribal citizens that are essentially professional research technicians) and apply for and administer project specific grants, has allowed for much progress to be made addressing tribal environmental priorities.

There has also been a great benefit building on-going relationships with academic institutions, private researchers, State, Federal, NGO’s, and local agencies. The Tribe has partnered with the City during past GAP projects to: address improving the quality of the wastewater stream; creating and implementing a Litter Control Board to rewrite City Codes pertaining to garbage storage and collection and hazardous waste handling; cooperatively carry out a complete assessment of the Honey-bucket situation within the City limits, including developing a plan to reduce reliance on honeybuckets - a large part of which was other tribal programs applying for water sewer hookups in partnership with the City; and two different attempts to complete a watershed protection plan for the above ground water City source (both times the City failed to follow through with completion and implementation). The Tribe has also been able to reach out to the remote camping community by applying for funding and administering projects to clean up a remote solid waste disposal site, in addition to a project successfully completed that cleaned up refuse on over 60 miles of coastline and more recently on 15 miles of beach. The Tribe has also partnered with the State of Alaska DEC Air Division to complete one entire year and five summers of monitoring PM10 levels in the City of Kotzebue and a year of assisting the DEC to monitor indoor air quality and outdoor VOC. The Tribe also partnered with EPA contractors Ecology and Environment to complete a Preliminary Environmental Assessment of an old Air Force Drum Dump Site and also successfully petitioned under CERCLA to have another old dump site assessed. The Tribe has partnered in the past with Manillaq, the regional tribal consortium, to institute a recycling program and has recently participated in multi-organization effort to find a solution for dealing with the burgeoning amount of large metal items accumulating that no longer have useful purpose. Most recently the Tribe supported an effort by the City of Kotzebue, which is currently ongoing, to analyze the potential for taking paper products out of the waste stream to use in an efficient burning system that would provide heat for the water system while reducing waste placed in the landfill.

The Native Village of Kotzebue IGAP project has focused on building the necessary capacity to address certain aspects of the environmental needs of our citizens, per the environmental assessment and ongoing Tribal priorities. Through our program we are able to educate and inform our citizens about issues concerning their environment and to advocate on issues/projects that will impact their future. Conversely, it is critical that the tribal voice and perspective be inserted into the discussions, decisions and processes carried out by agencies, both federal and state, as they move forward with their missions. A great example of this was the ability of the Tribe to participate through their EP in the “Arctic Climate Impact Assessment,” in 2005. This is arguably the most important and influential climate change document to have been presented in the United States Congress and we had the opportunity to participate in large part through undertakings that occurred under the implementation of the GAP grant. The health of subsistence resources is of vital concern for our citizens and after carrying out a three year harvest survey of our citizenship it was clear that the majority (70-75%) of these resources come out of Kotzebue Sound. For this reason, and given that no other entity has the responsibility of specifically researching and understanding the ecology of Kotzebue Sound, this has become a major focus of the EP. Three years of fieldwork were carried out 2002-2004 to collect qualitative ecological information on Kotzebue Sound the results of which were published through Alaska Sea Grant program. Two other issues related to this area are the changes observed in the Chukchi from a loss of sea ice/warming water and the ongoing development of the OCS Lease 193 Area in the Chukchi for oil and gas. Continuing research into the environment of Kotzebue Sound remains a top priority of the program.


The ES has also had the opportunity to contribute to and author other documents/publications addressing issues of Tribal priority or research results:

  • Contributor: “Assessing the Consequences of Climate Change for Alaska and the Bering Sea Region, Subsistence Chapter” - Proceedings of a Workshop, UAF October 1998
  • Author: “Kotzebue Base Camp” - Alaska Geographic, Living Off the Land, 2000
  • Contributing editor: “Arctic Flora and Fauna: Status and Conservation,” CAFF, Helsinki: Edita 2001
  • Author: “Documenting Qikiqtagrugmiut Knowledge of Environmental Change – Conversations About the Environment of Northern Kotzebue Sound During the Last Half of the Twentieth Century,” Native Village of Kotzebue 2002
  • Contributor: “A Synthesis of Recent Climate Warming Effects on Terrestrial Ecosystems of Alaska,” submitted for publication, 2004
  • Author: “The Relationship between Qikiktagrugmiut (Kotzebue Tribal Citizens) and the Western Arctic Parklands, Alaska, U.S.” – International Journal of Wilderness, August 2004
  • Co-author: “Forging Cooperative Ties Between Scientists and the Arctic Indigenous Peoples: An Inupiaq Example,” Unpublished 2005
  • Co-author: “Indigenous Perspectives - Arctic Climate Impact Assessment,” Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Co-author: “Diving Behavior, Habitat Use, and Movements of Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) Pups in Kotzebue Sound and the Chukchi Sea.” Poster presented at the 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, December 2005. San Diego, CA.
  • Author: “Native Village of Kotzebue Harvest Survey Program 2002-2003-2004 Final Report,” Native Village of Kotzebue 2005
  • Co-author: “Nutrients and Contaminants in Spotted Seals (Phoca largha) from Kotzebue, Alaska: Changes Due to “Cooking,” The Wildlife Society Meeting, Anchorage, Alaska Sept., 2006
  • Co-author: “Nutrients and Contaminants in Spotted Seals (Phoca largha) of NW Alaska: Linking the Health of Arctic Mammals and Subsistence Users.” The Wildlife Society Meeting, Anchorage, Alaska Sept., 2006.
  • Co-author: “Diving Behavior, Habitat Use, and Movements of Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) Pups in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.” 2007 AK Marine Science Symposium, Anchorage, AK. Jan. 2007.
  • Co-author: “Identifying the Habitat Preferences and Seasonal Movements of Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) Pups in the Bering Sea.” Abstract submitted for the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, 2007. Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Co-author: “Foraging and hauling out behavior of young-of-the-year bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) during fall and winter in Alaska.” Abstract submitted for the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, 2007. Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Co-author: “Tourism in Rural Alaska: The Challenge of Accommodating Both Locals and Visitors.” in Prospects for Polar Tourism, CAB International 2007
  • Author: “History of the IGAP in Alaska: An Insiders Perspective,” a report prepared for the AIG at USEPA’s AOO request, July 2007
  • Co-author: “Ringed Seal Population Structure and the Threat of Early Snow Melts; An International and Cross Cultural Collaboration,” presentation at 2007 Arctic American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • Co-author: “Kotzebue Marine Mammal News, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Dec. 2007: Bearded seals in Kotzebue Sound – Unraveling the Mysteries” Self published.
  • Co-author: “Effects of food processing and tissue type on stable isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) in subsistence foods of Kotzebue, Alaska,” submitted to International Journal of Circumpolar Health fall 2008.
  • Co-author: “Nearshore macrobenthos of northern Kotzebue Sound, Alaska, with reference to local sewage disposal,” Polar Biology fall 2008.
  • Co-author: “Inorganic nutrients and contaminants in subsistence species of Alaska: Linking wildlife and human health,” International Journal of Circumpolar Health 68:1 2009
  • Co-author: “Organic nutrients and contaminants in subsistence species of Alaska: Linking wildlife and human health,” International Journal of Circumpolar Health 68:4 2009
  • Author/Illustrator: “Common Marine Life of Kotzebue Sound,” poster, 2007
  • Co-Author: “New regulatory guidelines are needed to predict bioaccumulation in air-breathing species” unpublished 2009.
  • Co-author “Different habitat use strategies by subadult and adult ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in the Bering and Chukchi Seas” Polar Biology Fall 2011 and 18th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals (abstract and poster). October 2009. Quebec City, Canada.
  • Lead Author: “Combining Iñupiaq and Scientific Knowledge: Ecology in Northern Kotzebue Sound, Alaska” Alaska Sea Grant Fall 2010
  • Co-Author: “Seasonal changes in diving behavior of adult and subadult ringed seals (Pusa hispida) in the Bering and Chukchi seas,” Poster presented at the 19th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Tampa, Florida, November 2011
  • Co-Author: “Using bio-logging to study exposure of western Alaska marine mammals to industrial activities,” Fourth International Science Symposium on Bio-logging. Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, March 14-18 2011 (abstract and poster).
  • Co-Author: “Different habitat use strategies by subadult and adult ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in the Bering and Chukchi seas,” Polar Biology August 2011.
  • Co-Author: “A Recurring Bloom of Toxic Marine Cyanobacteria above the Arctic Circle,” published in Harmful Algae News No. 46 – June 2012
  • Co-author: “Kotzebue Marine Mammal News, May 2012, Kotzebue Sound Ringed seals – What have we learned?” Self published.
  • Co-author: “Seasonal Migration of Bearded Seals Between Intensive Foraging Patches,” Poster presented at 2012 AMSS
  • Co-author: “Dive behavior of adult and subadult ringed seals,” in draft.
  • Co-author: “Diving Behavior of a Benthic Predator in Alaska: Erignathus barbatus, The Bearded Seal” current draft.
  • Co-author: “Blubber fatty acids in three pagophilic phocid seals of northwest Alaska: Stratification and potential applications” drafted.
  • Co-author: “Effects of food processing and tissue type on stable isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) in subsistence foods of Kotzebue, Alaska,” drafted.
  • Co-author: “Chemical determinants of bioaccumulation in air-breathers highlight need for new regulatory criteria” in revision.

Additional publications about project findings undertaken in relation with the Tribes past workplans are in development and draft.

Research Contributions

It is also important to be able to influence agencies and academia as they carry out research and attempt to represent tribal culture, perspectives, and priorities through specific projects and subsequent publication of findings. To this end the ES created and implemented through Ordinance, a locally relevant research protocol with accompanying research project questionnaire. This allows for a consistent approach to interacting with researchers and provides for a way to track project results and hold researchers accountable for their actions and commitments to the community. It also benefits both parties by dealing with the mutual expectations and commitments upfront during project development.

Similarly, the IGAP opportunity has allowed the Tribe to use the office to develop additional funding sources to facilitate project specific research, which has strengthened our program and allowed the Tribe to shape projects to provide the answers that are important to its citizenship. While there have been many research projects initiated and/or facilitated by the Environment Specialist; one of the more impactful line of research that has been extremely successful in building relationships and delivering results, is the facilitation of four separate satellite-tagging projects for bearded and ringed seals, which was identified by the Tribe, Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), BOEMRE, and the recently formed Alaska Ice Seal Committee as a priority line of research. The EP was able to connect local citizens with scientists, under a FWS Tribal Wildlife Grant, a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant with support from industry (Shell and Conocophillips) and ADF&G Marine Mammal Division, and the NMML, to cooperatively develop capture processes, which resulted in the ultimate satellite tagging of 37 young bearded seals, 7 adult/subadult bearded seals and 29 ringed seals successfully, a first in Alaska marine mammal research. These efforts contributed to a revolution of sorts on how ice seal research was approached in northern Alaska and many other communities are now involved in research based on methods developed in part, by our Kotzebue efforts. Another outcome of the project was that two tribal citizens, along with the ES, were officially designated taggers on the ADF&G federal marine mammal research permit, which allowed tribal citizens to capture, collect biological samples and tag/release animals without the presence of a scientist. Allowing our citizens full access and participation in research projects is the best way to advance the role research plays in helping to conserve and protect tribal resources and its acceptance by tribal citizens. Additionally, the further development of inter-organizational/governmental relationship building with the other entities carries benefits above and beyond the EP.

Increasing the ability through continued experience reviewing and commenting on NEPA documents to advocate for the Tribal environment when development project and management plans are drafted, has also paid dividends through mitigation measures or project design changes that have been included in the final documents, in part due to Tribal comments. Participating in the NEPA process is critical to allow for understanding and influencing federal and state development/management projects/proposals. Without the IGAP, the Tribes ability to effectively have a voice during these processes would be severely limited. The Tribe sees the funding of this opportunity through the IGAP as addressing a very important environmental justice issue, in light of the fact that all these development and management proposals subject to the NEPA process are initiated and driven by other forces beyond the Tribes control, but have various levels of ramifications for impacts to the environment the Tribe depends on. This is essentially the purpose of the NEPA process in general, only in our case specifically applied to the Tribe. The deliverable for this component is substantive participation in Government-to-Government Consultation and drafting and submitting formal comments from the Tribe.

The Tribe continues to support research into understanding climate change and its effects, and has contributed to the international understanding of this issue and its impacts on indigenous communities of the Arctic. The program has also successfully facilitated the collection of many tissue samples from marine life for contaminant, pathology, and nutrient composition analysis and has partnered with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Arctic Biology, Wildlife Toxicology Lab, to provide a local facility and specimens to train graduate students to build their capacity for working in rural Alaska and continued cooperative work with Tribes across Alaska as they begin professional careers in wildlife research. As demonstrated above, The ES has also had the opportunity to draft or contribute on many published works discussing results of research, or relationships that Tribal citizens have with their environment. Creating awareness of the importance of the environment and the reliance on it for which our citizens depend for their cultural, nutritional, and spiritual survival is very valuable for consideration of these needs when policy makers and others make decisions that affect the environment of our citizens and their relationship with it.

In summary, the greatest impact of the IGAP is the ability of our Tribe to build the capacity to be able to be actively involved in the many issues of environmental concern/policy, raise environmental awareness, and to carry out project specific grants to proactively deal with the environmental needs of our Village.

Program Contact

Alex Whiting

Environmental Protection
(907) 442-3467 ext. 203
(907) 442-5303 direct

Environmental Projects