James Kelly, Sr. was interviewed on September 8, 2009 by Bill Schneider at the City Office in Fort Yukon, Alaska. At the time of the interview, James was working at the Natural Resource Director for the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments in Fort Yukon. In this interview, he talks about his observations about the impacts of climate change on the people and their traditional ways of living, and makes reference to what he has heard from elders. He specifically mentions changes he has noticed in the weather, lightning storms, permafrost and fires, and the effects of those changes on animals in the area.
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Freeze-up and Break-up
Impact of Lakes Drying
Water Level in Lakes
Fire: Impact on Animals
Fire: Temperature Rise
Impact of Lakes Drying
Warming Temperature and Thinning Ice
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BILL SCHNEIDER: September 10th, 2009. (SIC - really was September 8th) I'm Bill Schneider. And we have the pleasure today of doing an interview of James Kelly, it's part of the continuing series of interviews on climate change issues.
So thanks for taking the time to -- to do this. What are you observing that's going on out there that maybe is different from the way it used to be in the way of weather, climate observations?
JAMES KELLY: I think -- you know, actually born and raised here in Fort Yukon, and born in the '50s, mid '50s, I've seen the changes through the years. I --
right now I'd say the overall change I see is temperature, you know, when we talk about climate change.
It's a lot warmer now and for longer periods, you know, starting -- beginning actually in the spring and on -- on into the fall.
A lot -- a lot of what we're seeing today, I think, probably it's coming from what people are talking about, climate change, you know, different things happening here in the state of Alaska
and also throughout the world.
JAMES KELLY: We used to, kind of, gauge when, like, hunting season starts, September, years ago, I remember going out with my parents and going out with other people, you know,
once it'd get cold early in the first part of September, everybody would know, you know, that's probably a good time to go, and most of them would come back with a moose, but in the last 10, 15 years, things have changed, you know,
I would say drastically. One of the things that we did one year, I think it was 2001, for a good part of September, you know, the temperature range was pretty much in the 60s to the 80s,
which is really not normal for September in a lot of ways. And driving around in the boat with this T-shirt on, really out of the norm.
You know, these are things that really changed a lot and people are really observing these changes through time, you know.
So I think those are kind of the stuff that I -- overall I see is that -- with the temperature changes.
We're also seeing other changes, you know, the way maybe the animals behave.
Fishing, there's other things there that people are observing. The effects from, you know, the earlier spring, the longer in -- you know, the later fall,
I think, brings about a lot of changes that's impacting how people are going to have to live or actually how they are living right now.
JAMES KELLY: You know, we -- we look at fishing this year, just this year alone, you know, there was a closure to allow escapement into Canada for the spawning.
People were talking about the fish being smaller for years, all of a sudden this year they say they are really good size, so those are changes that people are today wondering about, you know.
And also, they are seeing, like the kings, they are look -- they are seeing those going up rivers that haven't really been there for years.
So the water temperature, water temperature changing, as well, you know.
So I think those are kind of the overall changes.
You know, you're looking at more fires, they are getting actually a lot -- probably lot hotter, you know, and they are burning longer,
there's a lot of stuff that's really having an impact.
JAMES KELLY: One thing I noticed more recently than this is -- this, I would say maybe 10, 15 years, I could remember growing up that a lot of times when there's lightning storms,
it would go around this community, you know, of Fort Yukon. But in the last 10 to 15 years, I've -- and actually, one house caught fire because of it.
There was a lightning strike pretty close to -- well, right in Fort Yukon. And people that were there at the site at that time when the fire started said it was a lightning strike.
So it tells you that the patterns even changing, weather patterns, maybe even regarding the lightning, how it went around Fort Yukon, it followed maybe the hills and such,
things of that nature, you know. They -- I kind -- I kind of look at that and I said, you know, these are slow and gradual changes,
a lot of times people don't observe them right away or, I mean, don't look at it and say, oh, there's changes going on, but it takes over time, you know, those gradual changes really
start impacting how, you know, it affects the community. You know.
So it's definitely a big change from when I was growing up as a kid, you know, and what I see today.
Milder winter temperatures is one thing. 60s, we get down to 60s, we're probably bottoming out. In past years, maybe the 60s, 70s, we get down to 60s, 70s,
it will probably get close to 80. We don't see those temperatures anymore, really. It's really once in a great while,
I think, so I believe that's kind of the stuff that when we talk about climate change, that people will say, yes, it's happening now, it's happening around us.
What it's doing to the land, what it's doing to the water, to the wildlife and everything. You know, it -- I believe those are stuff that's started -- it's going to stay with us for a while.
Just in the last week here, we had a workshop here in Fort Yukon, and there was a -- a present -- presentation down there by a guy from Fish & Wildlife,
he -- he kind of just conveyed the information out to the participants at the workshop, you know, that they are projecting that in time, the Yukon Flats area is going to turn more of a grassland,
you know, and they are just basically -- I think they are basing that on climate change, as well, you know, that they are seeing that there's -- this climate change is changing what the Yukon Flats is like today.
You know, lakes are drying up, a lot of areas. Elders are seeing the water as really way below the normal level.
Just in the last five years, water in the Porcupine River is so low that people really have a difficulty travelling on it, you know, that it's very hard for them to travel
because water is so low, you could almost walk across it. And those are from changes probably from this climate change,
as well, you know, it's not enough rainfall or other things happening elsewhere.
And I -- when those things were happening just in the last five years, elders were saying that -- the ones I talked to, they said, yeah, this has been the lowest they've seen in quite awhile,
and that most -- most of the time when they say quite awhile, it's -- they kind of relate that to their -- you know, the years that they've been living here in the community.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Lowest in terms of water level?
JAMES KELLY: Yeah, water level. I mean, the Porcupine would be so low that places you normally would just -- you know, you see good water levels in the rivers,
would drop so low that you almost could see the bottom. That's pretty much it, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Going back to fish and temperature of the water, could you say more about that.
JAMES KELLY: You know, I just started fishing the last maybe four to five years, and been using a net, primarily using a net. I did kill a few little last year, but that was for a friend.
But talking to other people, you know, talking to other people down in the lower part of the Yukon, I've got friends and we would meet up, and a lot of times they would talk about their fishing
in those areas, and the same -- it's the same as, you know, in our area here. People would have a -- would look at that and would look at the fish and say, you know, it's -- it's getting -- they are getting smaller.
And there's sometimes other issues that would come out would be like there's things in the fish when they filet it out, you know, cut it up and everything, for smoke, and they would say there's stuff that they observed.
So that's kind of the stuff that, you know, I think these -- what they are seeing elsewhere, we're seeing here in the Flats, you know, like I said, the fishing, so...
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about the fish going to different streams?
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. That's -- I guess last year and this year, they are saying that they were getting kings up on the Chandalar,
you know, going in toward Venetie and Arctic. And there was a lady that went to a workshop last week here and she said they got quite a few kings up there in Venetie this year.
They got quite a few there now. And really helped them out quite a bit, which is good,
it's just that that's not the usual. You know, it's not the normal trend you see.
Normally the fish would go the -- would come up the Yukon, and most people from Venetie would come down to the Yukon and set up their camp,
but this year they did a lot of fishing right around that Venetie area.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And why is that? Why would the fish change?
JAMES KELLY: It's -- it's a lot of things. I guess that, you know, you pretty much have to look at the data that's -- you know, that's collected by people doing water sampling and stuff.
It's the temperature -- temperature coming up in the -- in the rivers. You know, the water temperature, is it rising, you know.
Things of that, I think, would be factors you would look at if you wanted to say, hey, these fish are now going up Chandalar, up this -- up the Porcupine or, you know, they are seeing better runs
as opposed to past years. So I think that water temperature must -- you know, you need to look at that.
JAMES KELLY: What I hear from a lot of the people that work for this -- in this area, in this field, is that the normal temperature for fish before, you know, it's -- 72 and below.
I mean 72 and lower. 72 above. And now that's kind of the normal they said with, you know, for most fish. If they start getting warmer than that, then they -- you know, I would think that they would be looking for areas where it's a lot cooler, you know,
the water temperature. And that's probably happening. You know. If you start seeing fish going up Chandalar,
that's probably one of the reasons that it's probably cooler river right now, compared to Yukon. I'm not -- like I said, without seeing the data that's collected, you know,
that's -- that's real hard to really say is happening but, you know, to me, that would be something that I would say, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So this is something you've heard people say?
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. Just hearing people say.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Observations.
JAMES KELLY: And talking with people, you know. Asking people, you know, that work in this field. And you know, a lot -- there are a lot of people that work in the fisheries,
work with fisheries now. You know, they do a lot of the data collection, they check the water temperature, they check other things at the same time.
So I think that those people making these kind of observations and actually talking about a lot of times, you know, will say it must be true because you see different changes, like
kings going up the Chandalar when they never did, maybe in the last 5, 10, maybe 20 years, it's -- I'm not sure when the last time they were able to see kings go up the Chandalar but, you know,
it seems like in the last two years people were talking about it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about fire? You mentioned fire. What's -- what's causing that?
JAMES KELLY: That -- that, again, is -- it's like a whole different -- you know, it's a whole different area. It's a science by itself.
You know, in past years, fires are pretty much below in certain areas within interior Alaska, and maybe -- and not -- not so much out in the coastal areas,
but more in the interior there. I did quite a few years of firefighting, you know, being able to go to places like up on the Sheenjek River,
over on the Chandalar, you know, anywhere in the Flats and -- and in the interior of Alaska, we just travel around wherever they need us.
Fires were really never recorded up in around Arctic Village, you know. That's close to where they are starting getting into the Brooks,
you know, Range mountains there. And -- but I remember going to a fire right outside of Arctic, which is really unusual, you know, because it's just more tundra.
And, you know, I don't know if it's, you know, have to do with the getting more -- getting a lot drier might be one of the things to look at, too, but just -- but going to a fire by Arctic Village,
I find that really unusual.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What's the impact of fire on people's lives?
JAMES KELLY: Well, it's supposed to be a good tool to manage, you know, the land. It clears a lot of the undergrowth, it clears areas where are really thick, you know,
when you're looking at timber, but overall, I think it also affects the animals in those areas, you know. Animals move around, fires move them.
And these things would -- would really hit communities, if you -- if you got that one community struck by a number of fires, you know,
all the animals move away for a while, you know, how long would that movement for, you know, how long it would take before they start coming back to that area again.
And so there's -- there's things of that nature I think you look at when you talk about the impact of the fire on the communities, on the people.
JAMES KELLY: It also -- the way it is today, there is now, and everybody's pretty much aware of it is, you know, there are different ownerships of land now.
Fish & Wildlife, the Yukon Flats is a wildlife refuge. Villages have village corporation owning the surface. Doyon owns surface and subsurface in a lot of areas on these communities.
So different ownerships and different philosophy on how to deal with fires. Doyon and Fish & Wildlife would let burn, you know.
They would say "let it burn", and it doesn't have any value. We'll -- it will clear the land. But in the end, the people of communities always one way or another would have to suffer the consequences,
whether it's real bad smoke in that community. You know, sometimes it gets so bad you can't see across river.
And how does that affect transportation,
you know, for people that if you had a medevac, are you able to fly in and take that person out? If somebody's, you know, experienced some medical problems
and need medical attention right away, how could you get them out in those kind of situations.
JAMES KELLY: Big fires are good, and you know, they -- they are meant to help, but the way it's been lately with all the different ownerships of land,
the different owners would then make a determination of "let it burn". Once it gets so -- so large, you know, you can't fight it.
You pretty much just have got to jump around and protect different areas that could be protecting a community, Native allotment, or whatever. But you know, that --
they get to a point where they can't control a fire, and it does get out of control, and it does impact the communities.
JAMES KELLY: Because I've worked in the electronic field for years. I did that for 14 years, traveled for 8. One of my job was flying out to the villages in the Yukon Flats,
and that one year they had so many fires in the Flats that, you know, it just got totally out of control. And we travel from Central to Beaver,
on a normal scheduled flight that would take about 30 minutes, I believe. But due to the number of fires that were in the Flats and the growth of those fires and everything,
it took us over 2 hours to get from Central to Beaver. And that was just flying every which way trying to get around those fires.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JAMES KELLY: And it really raised a big concern for me is that, you know, what would happen if somebody got sick? What would happen if somebody really needed to get into Fairbanks on a medevac?
BILL SCHNEIDER: And it -- are you saying you're experiencing more fires now?
JAMES KELLY: I am seeing, in my -- in the time -- in the times that I fought fire, and I started in '69, I lied about my age, I was 13, but I started fighting fires then, and I --
through the years I've noticed more fires. They are more frequent.
And -- and that really, I think that's one of the telling signs, too, that probably the temperature is raising a lot of areas.
You know, could be just the atmosphere alone but, you know, because I -- you know, when -- when they had those big fires in the Flats about four or five years ago, I think the temperature was kind of averaging for about two to three weeks,
maybe even longer, right in the 90s, you know. Getting up to 93, 89, 90. And that was pretty hot. You know.
Years past, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't say that I can ever recall that happening like that, especially for that duration of time, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JAMES KELLY: For that length of time. You know. It was really never that hot. It will get hot for a while and it will cool off and, you know, but it was just in the last four or five years when we had those big fires here it was like 89, 90, then got up to about 93.
And I think it kind of -- the same temperatures, I guess, were recorded everywhere else pretty much within the interior. It was getting warmer. And people are starting to report higher.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hang on a second. I'm going to ask them if they'll... (Pause in interview.)
BILL SCHNEIDER: Talk about permafrost a little bit. You said permafrost is melting?
JAMES KELLY: Well, those are things that people, like I said, things are happening gradual. And you know, as -- as it happened, you know, people don't really look at it.
You know, if it happened real fast, then it becomes noticeable, you know, people then catch on it quickly, hey, it's changing. But if it's gradual, you know, after awhile you just kind of accept it.
And I think that's the same way like what people are saying in, you know, anything you do, and especially in your line of work, you know, I work with a -- like I said, electronics,
I also did -- helped work on telephone companies, work with telephone companies, putting in cable lines and, you know, you notice real quickly when you start digging it's a different time of the year,
like from April to October, that you're not hitting the permafrost real close to the surface, and things of that nature. You know, it really -- you catch it fast when you're doing it, saying,
gee, the ground is soft, and that kind of make you think, you know, are we losing the permafrost? Are they -- is it going lower into the ground to a level where, you know,
it's easier for, you know, any kind of digging and stuff, you know, the surface area.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JAMES KELLY: So -- but I've also heard it from elders sitting down with them that, you know, they would say that they go around lakes and they notice that the lakes are drying up, so they -- they -- they question it real quick.
They say, is the permafrost going further down in the ground? You know. It -- normally you would see about, what, 5, 6 feet. Is it lower than that? No, but that the water is going down
into the ground now, so being absorbed by the ground, with the dirt and everything. And the vegetation. So things like that, people talk about. And, you know, when you listen to the elders, and I always enjoy listening to them because a lot of what they say,
they are kind of just relaying what went on when they were young and a lot of what they've seen through the years, and they have some real good stories. I just enjoy listening to them.
JAMES KELLY: They were talking about the lakes where they used to -- they remember going into those areas where they would hunt muskrats and where they would do other things, and they said they can't do it anymore.
You know, it's growing over. The water level is low. You can't paddle in there or get in there with my boat or anything. So you have to walk in there.
And a lot of these things, they start bringing up that question.
Is it the permafrost. Then they then look at the fires, too. They say, is the fire actually doing damage to the permafrost because, you know, the fire burns off the surface cover, but -- and is that affecting,
you know, the permafrost going lower, maybe the water going into the ground and not filling the lakes. Because normally if you look at the lakes and if they are holding water,
you'd say probably the permafrost -- permafrost is pretty close to the surface, you know, holding the water in that lake area, you know. And so, yeah, when they talk about it, I sit and listen.
And I really enjoy listening -- you know, listening, too, because I think that you learn a lot when you just keep your mouth shut and just listen to the elders talk, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: For sure.
JAMES KELLY: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: For sure.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So when we think about impacts on people's lives and activities
like subsistence activities, what -- what sort of things come to your mind right away?
JAMES KELLY: I think that, you know, there's going to be a lot of concerns. You know, it's happening now, but you know, it's not as big as -- it's not a big issue right now,
but I think over time it probably will be is that when we start seeing the changes in how the birds, you know, the migration pattern, you know, coming into a different area, where it affects them, or are they going to go further north,
you know. And those things happen like that. I think it's -- we're hearing people that actually do workshops coming out to say that they are starting to notice kings
are going further up toward the Arctic Circle, you know, whereas before they were down there in the Dutch Harbor area, you know, the Aleutians, now they are starting to see them go further north.
They are -- they are raising the same concerns, they are saying maybe the water temperature is doing things for the fish that do -- actually make the fish go to where it's a little cooler, you know, the water.
JAMES KELLY: But when we talk about impact, you know, we're talking about within the Yukon Flats, I think that these things eventually would start bringing changes in how animals -- you know, mig -- like I say, they migrate around,
they move around, but as it start getting hotter and hotter because the temperatures increase each year, not noticeably, but you know, they might start moving further north or further inland or things of that.
You know, it always raise a question. You know, you always ask yourself --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure.
JAMES KELLY: -- what's it going to do to the animals.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about geese hunting? Has geese hunting been affected by any changes do you think?
JAMES KELLY: People are always talking about that, you know, in the past when we have a breakup on the Yukon River, it goes real quick, you know,
probably in a matter of 12, 14 hours, the ice would come by the community, you know, they get floods, usually come up for about 2, 3 hours and drop and continue down the Yukon.
Well, lately, and say this year is kind of like an exception within the last five years. We didn't have no breakup in the last five years,
with -- like I said, with the exception of this year. The last five years, everything would just start melting because it was warmer in April and into May,
and the ice would just eventually melt away, and there's -- when the breakup does occur, the ice is not as thick,
so there's times it just really just flow, you know, flow smoothly by a community.
JAMES KELLY: And how it affects geese hunt, you know, geese and people going out geese hunting, I think, is that those kind of breakup where it just -- it just breaks up and water barely come up, you know,
halfway, probably halfway up the bank, and doesn't flood out these bars, most of the time that's what occurs when you have a big flood. And the flooding of those bars, gravel bars, that would get the geese moving.
You know, they would fly around, then after the breakup goes by and water drops and they start coming back. And in the years where we didn't have any real big breakup and things of that sort,
I think that's where people, you know, it's -- it's harder to get to some areas, you know, the water's low because the breakup is very mild and not much water behind it.
This year, I think everything got covered. All the gravel bars got covered, so the geese were flying all over and people went out and got quite a few. But that's changing, as well, you know.
Like I said, in the past years when we used to go out, we go out right behind the ice, you know, people would just wait until it cleared up enough and they would jump in their boats and go.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you had enough water --
JAMES KELLEY: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- to get out to the bars?
JAMES KELLY: And you go almost -- the bars would still be covered but, you know, they would go out there and find good spots, and when the water recedes, you know,
they would start seeing the geese, the flocks start flying in, and they would be able to pick their spots out and, you know, just with time, you know, get the number they want. You know.
JAMES KELLY: And I think that's kind of the thing that went on for years before, you know, before it started changing. And people would just go out behind it and go out at the behind the breakup and, you know,
pick their spot and, you know, hunt the geese as they come in.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So do I understand you correctly that it's the low -- the low water in recent years --
JAMES KELLY: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- except for this year, that made it hard for people to get to those bars?
JAMES KELLY: And it's -- it's not getting to the bars that was hard, it's just that, you know, the bars never got covered, you know, the water is low, and it's low again during breakup,
a lot of times those, you know, they would -- the geese would be on those bars but, you know, when you look back at it, you know, people get out there and they don't see them flying that much because there's -- you know,
the bars are not covered with water and the geese are where they want to be. And, you know, they just have to go looking for the right spot then, you know, so it's a little harder, it makes it a little harder, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Because they are camouflaged?
JAMES KELLY: Yeah -- well, not -- not because they are camouflaged, but just because, you know, like I said before that, you know, when the water covers your -- the gravel bars, you know,
then the geese end up taking off and they go back in the lakes for a while and they -- they fly back and forth. There's -- you know. And when the water starts receding and they start coming back to the gravel, feed and everything,
people will be out there and they will feed -- you know, they pick their spots and they would do their hunting, but the water is so low and during breakup, like I said,
that it doesn't even cover the gravel bars, that water would just go out on the main channel and it will go -- it will be low because like I said, it melts in April into May, before the breakup, and
-- and it don't even come up high enough to really cover much the gravel bar. So the geese are already out there just out sitting there. And when the people go out to look for them, they have got to work --
they got to do extra, make an extra effort to find the right spot, you know. It's -- the water kind of moves geese around when you think about it because it floods the gravel bar, they get up, they fly,
and they take off into the lakes and other areas, and they move along. They -- they tend to just come in when they start seeing the water receding,
they see gravel, gravel bars exposed, they start landing in those areas, and that's what -- I think what people go out and hunt, that's normally what they do is they just sit there and, you know,
wait for the flocks to come in because, you know, geese, you hear them everywhere. I mean, springtime, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's right.
JAMES KELLY: That's why it's getting spring -- springtime, especially in the villages, I know that a lot of people take a lot of chance, even before the breakup,
they would go out and try to get to these bars because they know the geese are coming in then.
But because of those mild breakups, like I said, it's really affecting people's ability to go out and get the amount of geese they need for -- to carry their family through the winter,
you know, through the summer and through the winter.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's been a -- the reason I was pushing on that, that's been a concept that other people have talked about, but I haven't understood it. So I wanted -- I wanted to make sure I got it and good explanations.
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. Like I said, that's the stuff I notice through the years --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JAMES KELLY: -- that when water is high and everything's covered, you can get out there, water from bank to bank. You know, the water is from bank to bank and geese are flying all over looking for a bar to land on,
and once that water started receding, then they start coming to land in those areas, and that's what -- that's areas where people like to look for, you know, when they go looking for a spot to do their hunting.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about moose, moose hunting? Has that been affected by changes in the weather?
JAMES KELLY: Oh, yeah. You know, it's -- September, in, like I said, the last 5 years, 10 years, it's been a warm month. Well, you know, and I would attribute a lot of that to,
you know, climate change because, you know, the temperature is raising everywhere. One -- one year there we went moose hunting and we took off, it was about the second week into September,
it was September 11th, I think, 2001, was that 9/11? Was that 2001? We went out and it was like 85 above. And you can go all over the place and, you know,
all the moose were back in the lakes, you know. You could barely see much tracks out on the rivers, you know, you check the sloughs, you'll see tracks, but not much. And that month I think it was --
it stayed in the 80s for a long time. 70s and 80s. And it was only toward the end of that month of September, it was going into October that they started finally moving, and I --
I think it was -- a lot of it was because the temperature was cooling down, you know, so they were starting to move, and people were getting their moose in October, first week in October,
end of September, first week of October that year.
JAMES KELLY: It was hard to believe because, you know, normally you would see people going out the first week and second week into September get their moose, but because, you know,
being out there and seeing these kind of changes in the temperature, you know, I feel that it really did impact the behavior of the moose. You know, they stayed back in the lakes longer
while it's nice and hot, you know, it's like 70s, and 80s. And once it started cooling down, then they started coming out and coming to the rivers and everything,
and I think that's when people started run into them. Sure, a lot of them do hunt, you know, they also hunt in the lakes, you know, people walk back, check the lakes, they check meadows.
We all do that. But it was -- yeah, that year where that I noticed most of the people bring their moose back into Fort Yukon real late into September, first week in October, mostly.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That would be an interesting thing to -- to keep track of, in terms of when people get their moose, the date.
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. Right now, see, there's people getting moose right now already.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.
JAMES KELLY: They are -- you know. I think there's about three or four families in Fort Yukon that already got their moose.
JAMES KELLY: There are people going out and they are starting to see the bulls and cows and calves out, so it's cooler right now, you know, this year. So I think we'll -- we'll probably see more moose within the next --
probably up to mid September and on in, you know, to a later part of September. But I think it's kind of like a cooling period, so everything's cooler now, you know, temperature. We got down to 25 above a day or two in August there,
it got pretty cold, so -- so with that, you know, I think it does -- it is tied into temperature and, you know, how -- how the -- you know, that kind of influenced the behavior of the animals, you know.
You know, that. So yeah. It's something I think that's been coming for a long time and it's -- like I said, as the -- as the changes come into an area, if it's gradual,
people just kind of take it for what it is. If it was real sudden, you know, just like one week it's this, next week it's this, and you notice a big change all of a sudden, then everybody catches on real quick.
They notice that change, you know, to being like it -- to being -- like the temperatures, in the way the animals behave, a number of things, you know.
JAMES KELLY: And I always listen to a lot of the elders. They talk a lot about the birds, you know, when they would normally leave an area, head back south, and start migrating back south,
you know, they notice a lot of those changes going on. So there's things like that, that, you know, like elders do really bring out a lot of that kind of information on the birds should be gone by now but it's still here. You know.
So that -- that, to me, indicates there's changes going on that's, you know, happening in an area, and to me, that's -- that's stuff that, you know, we always got to watch, like you said, you know, you've got to keep track, you've got to learn to monitor,
whether it's the temperature of the water or, you know, other -- other daily you need to kind of give you some idea about what's happening, whether it's, you know, maybe the land itself, like --
like the permafrost, if it goes -- it start going lower into the ground. The ground, you know, into the lakes that are drying up, then animals have to move, you know, they are going to get to water, stuff like that. You know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let me just ask you about trapping. Any things that people have observed about trapping?
JAMES KELLY: I would say that, you know, what I'm hearing from people trapping, it's -- it's probably about the normal. You know, I -- I'm not much of a trapper. You know, like I --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
JAMES KELLY: -- I've got friends, relatives, you know, that go out and trap, and they've been seeing a lot. I mean, the temperature overall is a lot warmer in the past 10 to 20 years than it's been before that, you know.
And that might have some impact on, you know, the animal behavior and stuff, how they travel, how they move there, but overall, you know, I think, when we see 60s now, in the winter we're saying that's cold, you know.
In the -- in the 1960s, in the 1970s, if it got down to 70, that -- close to 80s, that's cold. And so, you know.
And I think those -- those things people are starting to notice a lot
that temperatures are starting to become milder here in the winter months, and in general, I think that that should have some effect on, you know, the animal, the movement of the animal, you know, them moving around.
You know. Because if it gets too cold, you know, they probably don't move that much, but as they get warm so --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Right.
JAMES KELLY: -- they will be out moving more.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
JAMES KELLY: So I think those -- those are things that a lot of people talk about, and it seems like they all know it's just the same, year after year, you know, whatever they get, like
catching lynx, you know, a lot of people would catch good number during the winter. And -- but talk to trappers, you probably hear more from what they see out there, you know.
They might see things that give you some indication that maybe is related to climate change.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Well, I think this is good. Thank you. (Pause in interview.)
BILL SCHNEIDER: Go ahead. We're looking at this chart here from Tanana, and we're looking at the geese hunting portion here. And in Tanana, they are saying that --
that geese hunting is occurring earlier because breakup is occurring earlier.
JAMES KELLY: And that's -- I believe a lot of it, you know, it's, you know, due to, like I said, the warmer days there in April, you know. And we're noticing it's getting a lot warmer in April, you know,
especially toward the end of the month in April. You know. And snow is melting faster, you know. Sooner than what it's been in the past years. So it does bring in, you know, a lot of -- a lot of the wildlife like ducks,
geese. And once they start coming in an area, people will start going out hunting and try to get, you know, whatever they can in those time periods before the breakup, but yeah,
I would agree that, you know, that the geese hunting and everything is starting to occur earlier.
JAMES KELLY: And I notice that it says increased danger of thin ice. Again, that's true because, you know, as it gets warmer, the ice starts melting, and it gets -- you know, there's always -- we hear people talking about this
that the water to underneath the ice itself, you know, it starts working on the ice and eventually starts melting and it does raise a concern of, you know, really thin ice where people travelling on that river,
you know, are -- can be subject to going through, you know, can be -- you know, if there's open water but, you know, if there's an ice, they might go right through it. It's -- it's happened a lot more recently,
people are breaking, you know, going through in those thin ice areas like that. So, yeah, I see just looking at this chart and looking at what's happening down in Tanana in that area,
I believe it's about the same for our area up here, you know. We're starting to see things happening sooner, like I said, the months, the summer months are even -- you might want to call it the growing season, you know,
like for gardening, that's kind of getting longer. People can go right -- there's still people got their gardens today, and you know, today's September 9th, you know, 8th today.
So it wasn't that way in the past, I don't believe. People had to quit in August before it started freezing up.
BILL SCHNEIDER: It seems like different communities have -- I mean, there's some similarities here, but there's also some things that -- that are -- that pop out.
Like in Tanana, they -- they have noticed low water breakups, like you have.
JAMES KELLY: Uh-hum. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But they depend on bigger breakups to bring more driftwood down, and they capture driftwood for firewood.
JAMES KELLY: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Whereas here, I don't know that that's such a factor.
JAMES KELLY: People -- people do use driftwood, but you know, not -- you know, we -- we look more towards getting a lot of the wood off, you know, out of the wood grove. You know. There's wood grove.
BILL SCHNEIDER: The standing grove?
JAMES KELLY: Yeah, there's wood groves that go outside of the community, and people to go out there and get the standing stuff.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But here, what I've heard from several people are the issues of the warmer temperature of the water. And also the melting of the lakes and its impact on muskrat hunting.
So I don't know whether muskrat hunting is less of a factor down there and more of a factor here or whether we just didn't ask the question here. That's the other thing.
JAMES KELLY: Well, probably --
BILL SCHNEIDER: You know, sometimes we don't ask the right question.
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. I would say with regard to, you know, like this year, very little muskrat houses out in the lakes. People aren't -- you know, it's been -- it's been there for years, you know,
that real low number of muskrats. And some years that they would see houses on the lakes, and other years they would say there's barely anything. And you know, the Yukon Flats was known for, you know --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JAMES KELLY: -- the muskrats. You know, people in Minto even talked about coming over the hills in the early years there in 19 -- you know, probably 1950s even. They say they would just walk right into the Flats and start
-- do their muskrat trapping here. And the Yukon Flats was well known for that, you know, that they had a lot of muskrats. And they were good quality.
But it's just slowly, you know, decreasing, and I think it's all over. It's -- it's the same with all over the Yukon Flats. Very little muskrats.
And that's probably what the elders were, you know, referring to when they say that the lake's drying up and there's no muskrats. And I think that's something that, you know, we look at,
we talked about earlier is that lakes drying up, is it because the permafrost is going lower into the ground, not like holding to the surface like it normally would.
How is that affecting the lakes being able to hold water, you know. And they can fill up but they will -- you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And I think you had mentioned forest fires perhaps melting the -- J
AMES KELLY: Burning the -- burning the top layer, yeah. Maybe that has an effect on the permafrost.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Surrounding the lakes?
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's something that Fred Thomas talked about.
JAMES KELLY: Yeah. And you talk about erosion and stuff like that, you know. And so there's a lot of things that, you know, nobody's able to put a -- put a finger on exactly what's happening but, you know, they are all saying it's related to the climate change.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
JAMES KELLY: You know, it's -- it's going to affect a number of things, animals and the land, you know. And eventually it will -- like I said, this workshop that was -- we were -- we had about a week ago,
they are kind of -- they kind of gave their projection what it's going to look like here within the next 50 to a hundred years, they are saying that sometime it's probably going to start -- you're going to start seeing more grassland like. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And what was that group that --
JAMES KELLY: It was -- it was a workshop on traditional land use, mapping and planning. It was just part of a grant that was received by CATG, but the people that were invited to do presentations, you know,
they came from Alaska Fish and Game, and they also came from U.S. Fish & Wildlife. Those two agencies really gave a lot of information with, you know, what they are looking at.
And they are doing studies, and next year they plan to do a lot of surveys, as well as do a lot of testing out in the Flats, you know, working with the communities, doing some soil sampling.
They already -- they are already doing water sampling, so they are going to do -- look at soil sampling.
JAMES KELLY: They are looking at a lot of the different plants out there. There's some plants that are, you know, not really what you would call --
how would you call that,] but it's they are like foreign to this area, they are not some that we just -- it just comes from this area, it's foreign, considered foreign.
So those are starting to have an impact on other vegetation around and other plants, other, you know, fireweed and stuff like that, you know, all those things that are kind of like just part of this area, you know.
They are going to eventually -- you know, they are foreign -- the foreign plants that come in, they say it comes in different ways. The seeds come in by -- you know, by sticking to, you know, things, and then when they --
like planes and stuff, it falls off and lands in the area, you know, then they start --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Right.
JAMES KELLY: You know. And those are stuff that they talked about. And it was kind of interesting that they were saying this was kind of the projection that they were making right now that within so many years,
they are -- they are -- they are thinking that the Yukon Flats area is going to start looking -- going to have more grassland than what it has today. So -- and probably in all, if you look at that and if you hear that,
it's probably an indication that it's going to get warmer, the temperature and the climate change, what it's going to do on the land, what kind of impact it's going to have.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Okay. Well, I said 45 minutes, and it's 45 minutes.