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High Ground

It takes a village to move out of the flood zone

When a flood strikes, federal agencies may help homeowners by buying out their homes. In some cases, properties deemed vulnerable to future floods may be purchased and turned into parklands so that residents can move out of harm’s way. That’s been done in Texas, the Midwest and elsewhere.

However, Elizabeth Marino, assistant professor of anthropology at OSU-Cascades in Bend, says such solutions may not work in locations where residents want to relocate together — as a community. With a $750,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, Marino leads an evaluation of relocation policies, other case studies of moving and their application in Shishmaref, a native Inupiat village in Alaska.

Shishmaref is threatened with flooding by rising sea levels and erosion from wave action and storms. “If tribes want to relocate, they often want to relocate near or on traditional territory,” says Marino. “There’s an implied ethnocentrism to policies that apply to the nuclear family rather than to the community.”

For her graduate work, Marino lived in Shishmaref and interviewed people about flood risks. Her book Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground: An Ethnography of Climate Change in Shishmaref, Alaska, was published in 2015 by the University of Alaska Press.

By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.