Thursday, November 13, 2014

ATCEM 2014

October 28-31st,  2014

 Miracle Drummers and Dancers of Wasilla


To open the 20th annual Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management, the Miracle Drummers and Dancers of Wasilla performed several songs.  Even conference attendees joined in the dancing, pictured above.  Also present at the conference opening were keynote speakers Senator Lisa Murkowski and ANTHC Chief Administrative Officer, Shana Hegna.  The message? Keep up the good work. 
Senator Lisa Murkowski addresses the audience at the 20th Annual ATCEM
Murkowksi encouraged conference attendees to use their traditional ecological knowledge in their work, and on the topic of backhaul, she offered possible solutions like the "adopt a barge" concept and assured her audience, "I am committed to tackling this issue with you". 
Shana had several take home messages as well -  Teach your children the importance of caring for our environment and the resources provided to us, the importance of taking care of our elders, reinforce the traditional values of caring for our land.  
The great thing about ATCEM?  Everyone has a different experience.  All attendees can get out of the conference the needs that are specific to their programs.   With six tracks to pick from (Water quality, Air quality and healthy homes, Solid waste and brownfields, LEO and climate change, Program sustainability, and Bag of Tricks), the knowledge and experiences shared is vast.  I attended many breakout sessions each day, not following any specific tract, and I'd like to share here just a few highlights from my experience.

Each morning, several EPA Project Officers took the time to meet with their region to share new information, and answer any questions related to the information.   A big topic included the FY16 IGAP funding announcement, which can be found at this link.  Several new requirements are in play this year, contact your project officer if you weren't able to attend these sessions.  Important dates to remember?

Important Dates for FY16 GAP Applications
Two of our favorites over at ANTHC, Desirae Roehl and Oxcenia O'domin, tackled the important issue of Food Security in a time of a rapidly changing environment.  Things to consider?
  • The availability of food
  • Preparation and storage
  • Safety
  • Confidence that it is ok to feed to your families
Oxcenia takes notes during audience discussion
The room was packed full of people who were all willing to share their ideas and projects they have been working on related to this issue.  I look forward to the launching of a new website that will list all kinds of subsistence foods from moose to berries to salmon, and things to look for and consider when thinking about food security related to each specific food source.
Desirae talks about the new website that will be launched soon!
Some folks wondered where to go when they see unusual things happening to their fish or berries, and Desirae encouraged those people to look into joining LEO, the Local Environmental Observer network.  Check out their link for more information:

A is for Acidification, B is for the Benefits of Climate change, and C is for Carbon??
A new kind of alphabet was discussed by ANTHC's Mike Brubaker during this meeting.  The take home message here is that there is a lot to learn about climate change - not all bad.  The important thing is that we need to be educated and prepared to adapt to this changing climate.
The community of Kivalina knows all about this.  Pictured here is a defensive wall built around their community by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect them from coastal erosion. Read more about the issues they face here

Coastal Community of Kivalina, with a defensive wall built to protect them from coastal erosion
Photo by Millie Hawley
There were also some heated conversations at this year's ATCEM.  During the ADEC presentation on their triennial review, concerns were voiced about the human health criteria standards for Alaska residents.  The concerns being voiced at this meeting, and hopefully addressed in this round of reviews, is that the rate of consumption of fish for AK residents is way too low.  Listed as one of their top 3 priorities in this triennial review, ADEC has a big task ahead when determining how to address this issue.   More information on this issue can be found at ADEC's website.
All in all, the 20th Annual ATCEM did not disappoint.  In addition to all of the knowledge and experiences shared, this is a great opportunity to talk in person with others in the same field, and learn from each other's successes and challenges. They do a great job of organizing this event, and I would encourage any environmental professionals in the state to attend next year's conference.  Information can be found on the conference at their official website,