Community vulnerability to changes in the winter road viability and longevity in the western James Bay region of Ontario’s Far North

Abstract

A network of winter roads that consists of snow-ice roads over land, muskeg, and frozen lakes and rivers has been and continues to be a critical seasonal lifeline in remote-northern First Nation (FN) communities in Ontario’s Far North. This study examines current vulnerability of the Fort Albany community to physical, social, and economic impacts associated with the changing of the viability and longevity of winter roads and its seasons, as well as the river ice regimes. Semi-directive interviews with key informants (n = 8) and structured surveys with winter road users (n = 54) were conducted to gather local knowledge about the evolution of winter roads and climatic and environmental changes in winter road conditions and seasons. Trends in the river ice breakup and flood events for the Moose River, Albany River, and Attawapiskat River were also examined. The results of this study indicate that climatic factors, particularly air temperature and snowfall, have directly affected the construction and maintenance of the James Bay Winter Road. Trend analyses of spring flooding for the three rivers exhibit statistically significant increases (p ≤ 0.01) over the past few decades; thus, flooding in nearby communities has become a more significant threat in recent years. A few short- and medium-term adaptation strategies have been initiated in response to the impacts of climate change on winter roads; however, developing long-term planning and feasible adaptation for remote-northern communities in Ontario’s Far North is necessary.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Mr. Roger Davey, the Fort Albany FN community, and the K-Corp.

Funding

Financial support for this study was provided by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

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Correspondence to Yukari Hori.

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Editor: Marc Metzger.

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Hori, Y., Gough, W.A., Tam, B. et al. Community vulnerability to changes in the winter road viability and longevity in the western James Bay region of Ontario’s Far North. Reg Environ Change 18, 1753–1763 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1310-1

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • First Nations
  • James Bay
  • River ice
  • Vulnerability
  • Winter roads