International group gathers in Unalaska to talk Arctic biodiversity

The Arctic Council’s working group for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) is meeting in Unalaska Sept. 5-7. (Credit CAFF)

This week, Unalaska is hosting an international gathering of scientists, wildlife managers and indigenous leaders — all focused on biodiversity in the circumpolar north.

Listen now

It’s a meeting of the Arctic Council’s working group for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), currently chaired by the United States.

The group conducts habitat research, tracks native and invasive species, and encourages local engagement in environmental issues across the world’s eight Arctic nations.

Cindi Jacobsen is CAFF’s chair. She works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage.

“We’re halfway through the U.S. chairmanship, so we’re measuring: Have we been doing the types of things we wanted to do and accomplish?” Jacobson said. “And I think we have good indicators that things are going really well.”

Jacobson points to the creation of the Arctic Youth Ambassadors program, which is training young Alaskans to advocate for Arctic issues. She also emphasizes China’s increased interest in cooperation — a CAFF priority, as many Arctic migratory birds spend time there.

Going forward, Jacobson said CAFF wants to continue building partnerships with communities and indigenous organizations around the state. That’s why the group is meeting in Unalaska, following earlier gatherings in Bethel and Fairbanks.

King Cove’s Liza Mack said it’s important that CAFF is spending time in the Aleutian region. She’s the executive director of the Aleut International Association (AIA), created to address environmental and cultural concerns of the Unangan people in Alaska and Russia.

“We are the gateway to the Arctic and the Bering Sea,” Mack said. “That’s where we live. That’s who were. And we’re happy to have the opportunity to bring our expertise to the table, because this is where we’ve lived for thousands of years.”

As a permanent participant on the Arctic Council, Mack said AIA has the right to weigh in on the council’s decisions and negotiations. That means she’ll be at CAFF’s closed-door meetings Sept. 5-7. at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.

Those sessions are not open to the public or news media, but CAFF held a community potluck on Tuesday, Sept. 4. It gave Unalaskans a chance to meet international visitors from Finland, Iceland, Italy, Russia and more.

CAFF chairmanship will transfer from the U.S. to Sweden in spring of 2019.

Laura Kraegel covers Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands for KUCB . Originally from Chicago, she first came to Alaska to work at KNOM, reporting on Nome and the Bering Strait Region. ( / 907.581.6700)

Previous articleIn Kaktovik, sea ice loss means a boom in polar bear tourism
Next articleHow little organizations make a big difference through collaboration