The Alaska Herpetological Society

THE HOTTEST SOCIETY IN THE NORTH

Project Background

By Joshua T. Ream (CLICK HERE TO VIEW JOSH's CV

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A SUMMARY OF REAM'S WORK

CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE MAIN PROJECT PAGE

As an interdisciplinary graduate student in Ethnobiology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I am researching human-amphibian interactions as well as local and traditional knowledge of amphibians within the Stikine River Drainage and nearby coastal islands of the Tongass National Forest. I am interested in the nature and extent of local knowledge regarding the frogs and salamanders of the region, but also the cultural and recreational value that these animals provide to local peoples. I am analyzing several approaches to gaining local knowledge and their ability to enhance data obtained from conventional scientific methods.

The majority of money for wildlife research in Alaska is provided for the study of species that are important subsistence and economic resources for Alaska's citizens. This makes sense! Still, the majority of life on earth is considered "non-game" and these species can often impact those on which humans directly depend. Given that Alaska is a vast, sparsely populated state, basic research on a species distribution, abundance, and population trends over time can be extremely costly. I postulate that local knowledge may help to overcome the financial and logistical barriers to obtaining this valuable information. Furthermore, the pursuit of local knowledge promotes citizen science, outreach and education which gives local stakeholders a seat at the table in the research and management of their resources!

While I hope that my research can be applied to other communities and other taxonomic groups, I have decided to focus on amphibians in a series of case studies in this research. Amphibians are important components of Alaska's ecosystems. Though there are only six native species, some of these occur relatively abundantly in the state. They provide an ample food source for fish, birds and small mammals. They also help to control insect populations that are part of their diet. Additionally, amphibians are considered great indicators of ecosystem health due to their permeable skin and affinity for water. Even a slight change in their environment or, the introduction of a toxin, can devastate amphibian populations. Furthermore, amphibians have been important to many Alaska Native cultures throughout history.

To expand available knowledge of amphibians on the Stikine, I am attempting to acquire data through several methods:

  • Local Knowledge (Mailed Survey)
  • Indigenous Knowledge (Interviews with the Kiks.adi Clan of the Stikine Tlingit)
  • Passive Citizen Science (US Forest Service Cabin Logbooks)
  • Active Citizen Science (Service Learning Project with the SYSTEMS Program)
  • Conventional Herpetological Inventories (Field Sampling)

There is a twenty plus year data gap between a previous Stikine Amphibian Inventory by Dana Waters in 1991 and my current herpetological work in the region. I hope that this project can help to correct the available knowledge limitations for improved conservation and management of amphibian species.

PILOT STUDY IN 2010

(CLICK HERE TO SEE WRANGELL SENTINEL ARTICLE)

To facilitate the development of this project’s methodologies and scope a pilot study was conducted from May through August of 2010. This was funded through an Alaska Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Resilience and Adaptation Program (RAP), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Museum of the North. Throughout the field study I travelled extensively throughout Southeast Alaska, from Haines in the North to Ketchikan in the south. Among the intended goals of these travels were to 1) identify collaborative partners 2) develop relationships with governmental and tribal agencies 3) obtain a basic understanding of the extent of local amphibian knowledge 4) advance my understanding of southeastern Alaska’s indigenous cultures 5) conduct preliminary semi-directive interviews 6) offer public guest lectures and outreach opportunities and 7) sample opportunistically for amphibians on the landscape to expand the museum’s herpetological voucher collections. The field season was successful in advancing each of these goals and laid the groundwork for the project.

 

While valuable learning experiences ocurred in each location visited, the community of Wrangell, Alaska was exceptionally interested in developing a research partnership that would be mutually beneficial to our needs. The people of this community were particularly welcoming and offered a number of in-kind services to support the research including housing, transportation, meeting facilities and internet access. At the request of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wrangell Ranger District, I offered a number of guest lectures to support their local outreach programs and I was rewarded with a volunteer agreement giving me access to their bunkhouse and office facilities. Rangers expressed interest in advancing this partnership, suggested that they would welcome increased student research in the area by other students, and eventually provided a longer-term contract to support my work by providing access to lodging and equipment.

 

In order to take advantage of the developing partnerships in Wrangell I decided to remain in this location longer in an effort to explore the possibility of focusing my research within this district. I presented my intended research to the local federally recognized tribal authority, the Wrangell Cooperative Association, and I offered an additional presentation to the indigenous community at large. Within the Stikine Kwaan of the Tlingit who now reside in Wrangell, the Kiks.adi clan which claims the frog as its major crest expressed specific interest in collaboration and ethnographic documentation of clan heritage. During my time in Wrangell I interacted extensively with the members of this clan including their recognized matriarch, Mrs. Marge Byrd. I conducted several interviews of Kiks.adi elders and began to build the trust necessary for cross-cultural research.

 

These partnerships coupled by the Stikine region’s acknowledged amphibian diversity presented an attractive set of circumstances for graduate research. The five component themes and methods that were developed (outlined in the methods section of this proposal) as a result of interactions with this community and the surrounding landscapes address the interdisciplinary needs of the project as well as the cultural, educational, and biological needs of the local people.

 

 

To view Josh's Master's thesis in PDF form, please click on the following citation:

 

 

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to contact me at jtream@alaska.edu. I will post project results to this website as they become available.