Recent global environmental and social changes have created a set of “wicked problems” for which there are no optimal solutions. In this article, we illustrate the wicked nature of such problems by describing the effects of global warming on the wildfire regime and indigenous communities in Alaska, and we suggest an approach for minimizing negative impacts and maximizing positive outcomes. Warming has led to an increase in the areal extent of wildfire in Alaska, which increases fire risk to rural indigenous communities and reduces short-term subsistence opportunities. Continuing the current fire suppression policy would minimize these negative impacts, but it would also create secondary problems near communities associated with fuel buildup and contribute to a continuing decline in subsistence opportunities. Collaborations between communities and agencies to harvest flammable fuels for heating and electrical power generation near communities, and to use wildland fire for habitat enhancement in surrounding forests, could reduce community vulnerability to both the direct and the indirect effects of global climate change.
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Vol. 58 • No. 6