The Anchorage Daily News reports that the Census Bureau will get a jump on its counting of Alaska residents by beginning its survey of rural residents early, before their expected exodus to hunting and fishing grounds.
The population in outlying villages and wilderness areas of Alaska has dropped 3.6 percent between 2000 and 2008, according to an April report from the state's Division of Community and Regional Affairs.
The report says migration to cities (with rising energy costs partially to blame) and an aging population result in the rural student population declining at a faster rate than the overall population.
"What makes this census particularly timely and anticipated is that there's competing conventional wisdoms and a lot of discussion going on about what is really happening," Steve Colt, associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, told the Daily News. "We don't really even know the extent and nature of migration in terms of who is moving (where), let alone why."
Because the dicennial Census is used to apportion representatives in state and federal legislatures, the shift in population from rural to urban will likely affect the makeup of the Alaska state house. [The state has one "Representative-at-Large" in the U.S. Congress, Republican Don Young.]
But the population shift will also cost rural areas' budgets: The state report on schools notes that because of declining enrollments, ten communities (with a total of 91 students) face the immediate loss of school funding, and an additional 26 communities are barely meeting the required 10-student threshold.
At a workshop in Anchorage on Thursday, the Daily News reports, the village of Unalakleet in Western Alaska (population in 2000: 747) was cited as the preliminary choice for launching next year's count.
To traverse the most hard-to-reach area of Alaska's 586,000 square miles, many of the 2,500 census takers hired for the state will go door-to-door using planes, snowmobiles and dog sleds.
But there is already dissention about the Census: there have been concerns raised in the state that a preliminary GPS-mapping of domicile addresses by census workers will intrude on people's property and privacy.
Not everyone is sounding so unwelcoming: Noorvik Acting City Administrator Bobby Wells said the Kobuk River village (2000 population: 634) will offer census takers a hearty meal of the town's traditional Native food, from caribou to beaver, bear and seal - not to mention the moose barbecue.
For more info:
• U.S. Census Bureau