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Alaska Community Coastal Protection Project

Shishmaref Project Page

Shishmaref Interagency Planning Committee Agendas, Meeting Notes and Handouts Shishmaref Community Gathering Documents Shishmaref Strategic Management Plan Documents Shishmaref Reports and Studies DCRA's Community Resilience Programs

Shishmaref is a traditional Inupiat village with a fishing and subsistence lifestyle. The community is located on Sarichef Island, a barrier island approximately 0.25-mile-wide and about 3 miles long, but only one-third of the island is developable. The island was formed by frozen sandy soils, which are susceptible to significant erosion. The primary erosion hazards are wave and slough erosion, sea ice gouging, and slumping resulting from melting permafrost. Erosion has undermined buildings and infrastructure, causing several structures to collapse and fall into the sea. Over the years, the community has tried many different techniques to arrest the erosion, including gabions, sandbags, and articulated concrete mats. All these efforts have provided only temporary solutions. Because the shoreline continues to recede, the community has moved houses and other structures back from the edge but has less and less space to do so. According to the local hazard mitigation plan, “the effects of climate change are expected to add to natural hazards including flooding in coastal areas. As sea level rises and the offshore ice pack retreats, more coastal flooding can be expected.”

Government agencies consider Shishmaref to be one of four communities in immediate need of relocation (GAO 2009), and the State of Alaska Immediate Action Workgroup included it in the six top-priority communities that were imminently threatened by the impacts of climate change. A clear plan of action with widespread community and agency support will increase Shishmaref’s chances of receiving future funding to relocate the community.

The community has experienced a number of severe coastal storms over the past 20 years that eroded the island to such an extent that the viability of the community is at risk. In October 1997, a severe storm eroded over 30 feet of the north shore, requiring 14 homes and the National Guard Armory to be relocated. Five additional homes were relocated in 2002. Other storms have continued to erode the shoreline an average of three to five feet per year on the north shore.

Shishmaref The village of Shishmaref. Photo: Alaska Shorezone

Shishmaref’s Community Resilience Project

The Native Village of Shishmaref IRA Council expressed the desire to develop a comprehensive strategy to increase Kivalina’s resilience over the next 10-20 years. This process was accomplished in the following steps:

Year One

A Community Coordinator was hired by the Native Village of Shishmaref IRA Council to represent Shishmaref and work with the Planning Team (the DCRA project manager and contractors from HDR and Rim First People).

The first year of the project was spent working directly with the Shishmaref community to gather information on the community’s vision for the future, and local issues, values, goals and objectives that would inform the development of the Strategic Management Plan.

  • A Literature Review of the reports and studies prepared for Shishmaref (many of these documents are available under the “Reports and Studies” drop-down menu.)

The Community Coordinator conducted a series of door-to-door surveys, interviews and classroom exercises to increase understanding of what was important to residents of Shishmaref:

  • A Community Background Survey introduced the Strategic Management Plan project to community members, assessed their knowledge of previous planning activities and helped the Planning Team understand the needs and concerns of the community, especially regarding the natural hazards threatening the community.
  • A Community Values Survey to help the Planning Team understand community members’ top values and therefore, priorities for the Strategic Management Plan
  • A Classroom Exercise to help the Planning Team understand the vision of Shishmaref’s youth and what they hope their community will be like in the future
  • Elder Interviews to help the Planning Team understand the change village elders have seen and what their hopes are for their descendants
  • A Community Gathering was held at the end of the first year involving all members of the Shishmaref community. The combined community issues and values gathered were presented in poster-format and participants were asked to rank their top three issues and values. The results of the Community Gathering and the surveys, interviews and classroom were compiled into a Background Planning Report that would inform the development of the Strategic Management Plan in the second year.

Year Two

The second year brought the community together with state and federal agencies and organizations, Inter-Agency Planning Work Groups, to begin the development of the Strategic Management Plan. Based on the community issues, values and priorities identified in Year One, the group identified Strategic Focus Areas that would be the focus of the Strategic Management Plan. Because the intent of the plan was to increase community resilience, this process needed to be comprehensive and holistic. Eight Strategic Focus Areas were identified:

graphic of Shishmaref's Strategic Focus Area Diagram

  • Adaptable Built Environment
  • Safe and Sanitary Housing
  • Jobs and Economic Development
  • Proactive Emergency Management
  • Strengthened Traditional Culture
  • Leadership for the Future
  • Relocation
  • Other

Based on the eight Strategic Focus Areas, a Preliminary Planning Schedule, was prepared to guide the planning process. A Work Breakdown Structure, identified the broad range of Strategic Actions, to increase community resilience within each Strategic Focus Area. The Strategic Actions were then ranked by whether they were Imminent Actions (those actions the community needs in place today to protect people from harm during a hazard event), Critical Actions (those action items that, if not completed in 5 years, will result in a negative impact on community safety) , or Short-Term (strategic actions that can be realistically completed in 0-5 years), Medium-Term (strategic actions that can be realistically completed in 6-10 years) or Long-Term Actions (strategic actions that will take 11 years or more to complete).

The Shishmaref Strategic Management Plan was completed in 2016. Together with the Strategic Management Plans for Kivalina and Shaktoolik, Shishmaref's Strategic Management Plan received a National Recognition Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) for ACEC's 2018 Engineering Excellence Awards.

Shishmaref Inter-Agency Planning Work Group

The Alaska Community Coastal Protection Project was completed in 2016, however the Inter-Agency Planning Work Groups that were formed as part of the project still meet to help the three communities implement the strategic actions of their Strategic Management Plans. The Shishmaref Inter-Agency Planning Work Group has a new web page where progress on the implementation of the Shishmaref Strategic Management Plan is being documented.

For more information contact

Sally Russell Cox
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1650
Anchorage, AK 99501-3569
Phone (907) 269-4588
Fax (907)269-4539

Revised 03/08/2023