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Shorebird subsistence harvest and indigenous knowledge in Alaska: Informing harvest assessment and management, and engaging users in shorebird conservation

June 25, 2019

Limited data on harvest and population parameters are major impediments to assess shorebird harvest sustainability. Because of sharp declines in shorebird populations, timely conservation efforts require approaches that account for uncertainty in harvest sustainability. We combined harvest assessment and ethnographic research to better understand shorebird conservation concerns related to subsistence harvest in Alaska and to support culturally sensible conservation actions. Our objectives were to (1) estimate the Alaska-wide shorebird subsistence harvest and (2) document shorebird indigenous knowledge on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Harvest estimates were based on surveys conducted in 1990–2015 (n = 775 community-years). Key respondent interviews conducted in 2017 (n = 72) documented shorebird ethnotaxonomy and ethnography. The Alaska-wide shorebird harvest was 2,783 birds per year. Harvest of godwits was relatively low (1,115 birds per year) and likely included mostly Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica baueri, but this population has a low harvest potential. The egg harvest was 4,676 eggs per year, mostly small shorebird eggs. We documented 24 Yup’ik shorebird names and 10 main ethnotaxonomic categories. Children learning harvesting skills focused on small birds and adults also occasionally harvested shorebirds, but shorebirds were not primary food or cultural resources. Older generations associated shorebirds with a time when people were in closer contact with nature and their cultural roots. Shorebirds connected people with the environment as well as with Yup’ik traditions and language. Our results can inform improvements to harvest assessment and management, as well as outreach and communication efforts to engage subsistence users in shorebird conservation.