Stoking the flame: Subsistence and wood energy in rural Alaska, United States
Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
Energy Engineering and Power Technology
Nuclear Energy and Engineering
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AbstractEnergy costs are large and increasing in rural Alaska communities, so communities are turning to renewable energy. While, many of these communities have a mixed subsistence-cash economy, the relationship between renewable energy and subsistence has not been studied. Tanana, Alaska has a biomass program and we conducted interviews with 61 households in 2017 to understand how residents perceive the program and its association with subsistence activities. We analyzed Alaska Department of Fish & Game subsistence surveys from 89 communities to estimate differences in subsistence harvest between households that harvest wood and those that do not. Interviews indicated that people who harvest wood for the biomass program were six times more likely to engage in subsistence. Subsistence harvests were nearly double (184 kg/per capita) in households that harvested wood for personal use versus those that did not (101 kg/per capita). Equipment used for both activities was similar, and 57% respondents combined wood harvesting with other activities (e.g. subsistence, travel, etc.). Higher household incomes and employment were positively associated with subsistence participation (p < 0.001) while only household incomes was positively associated with wood harvest through the biomass program (p < 0.001). Overall, the program was perceived as having a positive effect (69%) for the community because it has created jobs (36%), saved people money (23%), promoted sharing (16%), and reduced fuel use by the community (15%). Our research shows that biomass programs have the potential to complement subsistence activities and enhance the sustainability of communities in rural Alaska that are faced with high energy costs.