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Longstanding climate change research project continues in Old Crow, Yukon

The Vuntut Gwitchin Government is partnering with researchers to continue studying the impacts that climate change is having on its traditional territory.

'Anything that affects the land has a very real impact on peoples lives'

The Old Crow Flats has been and remains a critical part of the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin. (Submitted by Kevin Turner)

Vuntut Gwitchin traditional territory is one of the fastest warming areas in the world.

That's why the Vuntut Gwitchin Government is teaming up with researchers from across Canada to address community concerns about climate change and its impacts on the land around Old Crow, Yukon.

"The consequences of that are going to be long ranging and diverse and they're going to touch on every aspect of the environment," said Jeremy Brammer, fish and wildlife manager for the Vuntut Gwitchin Government.

Some of the concerns include water, lakes, and rivers and how they are forming, breaking up and draining away. Another question surrounds shrubs, willows and alder growth, which has increased significantly. Researchers want to know what impact it is having on water quality, the land and permafrost.

"A lot of concerns are all linked to each other," Brammer said. "Whether it's shrubification, whether it's water or water quality or permafrost."

Vuntut Gwitchin government Fish and Wildlife Manager Jeremy Brammer (Submitted by Jeremy Brammer)

'We need as much knowledge as we can harness'

This project is a continuation of past research.

"One bit of research that is very memorable was the International Polar Year work that started in 2007," Brammer said. "We've been building since then". 

Brammer says it's a great example of a partnership between a self governing First Nation and researchers from outside of the community, and sometimes outside of Canada.

"When you bring together the knowledge of those different backgrounds to try and answer some of these tough questions like what is climate change going to mean to the land in the next 10, 20, 30 years, we need as much knowledge as we can harness," he said.

Research is currently underway however COVID-19 has presented some challenges. Most work is currently lab-based and being done through online communications because researchers are unable to travel to the community.

A retrogressive thaw slump on the Old Crow River is seen near the trail to John Charlie Lake. (Submitted by Kevin Turner)

Brammer is optimistic that researchers return to the community sometime this year. 

"We're hoping to be holding annual community sessions where we can discuss the research, the questions we're looking answer and learn from many members of the community who can provide insight to these questions," he said.

Brammer said the land is how many Vuntut Gwitchin citizens make their living. That means anything that affects the land has a very real impact on people's lives.

"We're quite fortunate to build a strong working relationship with researchers who are interested in engaging with a community and doing work to reach a shared goal," Brammer said.

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