State of the Beach/State Reports/AK/Sea Level Rise

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Within the last year, Alaska has made enormous strides in planning for climate change. In September 2018, at the request of the state governor, members of the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team were tasked with creating climate change policy recommendations and a climate action plan for Alaska. The Division of Community and Regional Affairs created the Alaska Climate Change Impact Mitigation Program to provide technical assistance and funding to communities imminently threatened by climate-related natural hazards, such as erosion, flooding, storm surge and thawing permafrost. While many of the recommendations deal with curbing emissions, the intent of the program is to help impacted communities develop a planned approach to shoreline protection, building relocation and/or eventual relocation of the entire community.

Sea Level Rise Policies

1. State encourages regional or local SLR vulnerability assessments with mapping: Yes

Alaska has been very proactive on their mapping efforts, with the Alaska Dept of Geology and geophysics producing a coastal vulnerability mapping report in 2014, with a focus on providing mapping opportunities in communities with sparse data. In 2015, Alaska State government signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and Public facilities, Department of Military & Veteran’s Affairs, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Fish & Game, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, and University of Alaska to “collaborate in order to: advance Alaska’s geospatial practices; advance Alaska’s geospatial holdings and to make available geospatial information to all interested parties both public and private. The MOA formed an Alaska Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative and Alaska Geospatial Council.

As such, Alaska has a strong coastal mapping capacity and in 2018, the state held the second Alaska Coastal Mapping Summit. At the summit, a Coastal Strategist (a position held by Marta Kumle) “provides guidance, coordination, and leadership in the development of a cohesive statewide strategy for geospatial data collection in the Alaskan coastal and nearshore areas.

2. State encourages regional or local SLR adaptation plans and implementation plans: Yes

Alaska Climate Change Impact Mitigation Program (ACCIMP) provides technical assistance and funding to communities threatened by climate hazards including erosion, storm surge, and flooding. Municipalities can also make their own mitigation program (see Homer’s). Additionally, Adapt Alaska is an impressive organization that looks into the specific impacts on Alaska caused by climate change and SLR, but it is not state owned.

3. State protects habitat that provide landward creep of coasts for wildlife (managed retreat, riparian areas, habitat connectivity): Yes

Alaska takes habitat conservation seriously, protecting its critical wildlife areas, national interest lands, streams and riparian buffer areas. For instance, the state has a Fish Passage Improvement Plan to restore connectivity for aquatic wildlife in streams. The state is also active across a wide range of Habitat restoration and enhancement including prescribed burns and waterfowl habitat enhancements. The state also provides resources to encourage private property owners to implement similar habitat enhancement projects on their own land, including incentive programs.

According to the Coastal Revegetation and Erosion Control Guide, there are no explicit regulations prohibiting activities that may damage dunes. However, there are explicit Riparian Standards for Private Land which mostly limits timber harvest and slope degradation 66-100 feet from the bank. Riparian standards for public lands are more strict, requiring that “the area shall be protected from adverse habitat destruction”.

4. State coordinates with municipalities, and encourages local plans and community outreach: No

The Alaska Community Coastal Protection Plan works with three of the most vulnerable coastal communities to build community resilience, carry out local capacity building, and create comprehensive strategic management plans (2016). While this work is critical, there could be more inclusive, strategic methods of coordinating with coastal municipalities and communities.