Building resilience in the Y-K Delta

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta of western Alaska is one the most rural parts the United States. With 56 villages scattered across some 50,000 square miles, the Y-K Delta region is rich with wild fish and game upon which its predominately Yup’ik residents heavily depend.

yk delta region

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska map by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As in other parts of coastal Alaska, the Delta is being hit hard by climate change. Rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, flooding and erosion are few of the many problems the region is facing. The village of Napakiak lost about 75 feet of coastline in recent storms, threatening key buildings and infrastructure, according to Alaska Sea Grant’s Davin Holen.  The community had to scramble to move important structures and is now looking at moving its tank farm and school, which are imminently threatened.


Davin Holen.

Holen visited the region this month for a workshop designed to help residents plan for the types of hazards they are likely to face in future years. A professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Holen is a coastal community resilience specialist and anthropologist with Alaska Sea Grant.


On his visit to Bethel, he was joined by representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Alaska, Army Corps of Engineers, Agnew::Beck Consulting, and Nautilus Impact Investing.

YKD Group Photo 1 small

The Aug. 22-23 workshop grew out of similar ones held in four western Alaska communities during 2016-2017.

“The goal is to help build resilience for Y-K Delta resources and the people who depend on them. Tribal and community leaders, regional organizations, individuals, researchers and public resource managers are developing practical adaptation strategies. These projects are tangible and could happen in the short-term, but have long-term lasting impacts,” Holen said.

After reviewing many issues in the region, Y-K Delta participants decided to focus on three main areas: infrastructure, subsistence activities impacted by shifting seasons, and trails and transportation corridors affected by thawing permafrost and lack of river ice.

An action plan is in development and will include a list of projects that focus on adapting to these changing conditions and immediate needs. This plan will be rolled out during two upcoming workshops for the broader community to review and comment.

Once the plan is developed, it will be posted on Alaska Sea Grant’s Adapt Alaska website which highlights coastal resilience efforts across Alaska.