A small organization in Southeast Alaska is aiming to develop a landslide warning system to monitor the area’s perilous weather conditions and alert residents to the potential risks of landslides. While Sitka has already implemented such a system, this new initiative seeks to extend these crucial warnings to even the smallest communities within the Southeast. The urgency for this project stems from the tragic loss of eleven lives due to landslides in the region since 2015, with casualties reported in Sitka, Haines, and Wrangell. The increasing threat is attributed to climate change affecting weather patterns and, subsequently, the landscape, heightening the risk of landslides.

Eric Bilderback, associated with the U.S. Geological Survey and overseeing several landslide hazard projects, has expressed concerns over the changing landscape in Southeast Alaska. Although the exact impact on landslide frequency and type remains uncertain, there is a clear consensus on the changing environmental dynamics in the area. Lisa Busch, from the Sitka Sound Science Center, has been instrumental in securing funding for Sitka’s landslide warning system following the deadly 2015 landslide. Now, she is collaborating with various communities to develop a regional system through a project named Kutí, meaning weather in Lingít. Despite the pressing need, Busch highlights the challenge of securing sustainable funding for these vital safety measures.

The initiative has garnered support from a wide array of stakeholders, including tribes, local governments, and state and federal agencies, who convened for the first time in early March in Sitka. With climate change’s impacts increasingly felt, the group emphasizes the urgency of their mission to mitigate human casualties through advanced warnings and potential evacuations. Southeast Alaska, characterized by its steep slopes and dense forests, is particularly vulnerable to landslides due to its high precipitation rates and the recent history of numerous slides blocking vital roads and isolating communities.

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