Source: BBC - Science & Environment

As a warming climate threatens traditional food supplies in the Arctic, one rural Alaskan village is flying in hundreds of reindeer by cargo plane. James Cook went to find out why.

Only 12,000 years late, on an experimental farm outside Fairbanks in central Alaska, Greg Finstad is proposing an agricultural revolution. For the indigenous communities of the north, he is advocating a move from hunting to farming, in particular to farming reindeer.

Finstad, who runs the reindeer research programme at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, says the subsistence lifestyle of rural communities on the Yukon river is under serious threat in a time of tumultuous change.

Softly spoken, his eyes shaded from the sunshine by a baseball cap, Finstad is a disarming mix of wit, charm and frankness. “They’re off the road system,” he says. “They have to ship very expensive food. They’re very worried about starving and it’s a legitimate concern.”

Shrinking Food Options

For those who have traditionally relied on subsistence hunting, these are indeed challenging times. Polar bears are scarcer than ever and, even for the few with permits to hunt the animals, tracking them on thinning ice is becoming ever more dangerous.

Wild caribou herds have been shrinking for reasons that are not entirely clear.And last year saw the lowest harvest of pink salmon since 1977, although sockeye salmon have been more resilient.

A more unpredictable climate may be affecting the animals’ migration patterns and food sources, although some recent evidence suggests they may now be adapting to those changes.

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