Sunday, November 21, 2010

Climate change puts tribal way of life at risk

Jennifer Cunningham in AOL News: …Native American tribes own and manage 5 percent of the land in the U.S. -- lands that are rich with renewable resources. But Native Americans are disproportionately affected by climate change. And droughts, temperature changes and altered animal behavior are just some of the ways climate change is being acutely felt on reservations in the West, putting tribal environments, identity and cultural traditions at risk, experts say.

…Many in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes reside on the Flathead Indian Reservation, 1.3 million acres at the base of the Northern Rockies. Temperatures are rising in cold-water streams, creating perilous survival conditions for native fish such as trout. White said the land has become drier, more prone to wildfires and hospitable to several non-native plant species, triggering a decline in traditional ones. Members of the Tulalip Tribes, which own 22,000 acres in Washington, are facing similar problems.

The 4,000-member indigenous group is experiencing a winter season that now ends two months earlier than usual. The six weeks that it normally took for the snow to melt into waterways happens in two weeks. The rapid snowmelt has a knock-on effect. More water flows through the streams, scouring sediment and altering the habitats that salmon use to develop. That creates a schism between water flow and the salmon biology, and threatens the core of tribal identity, said Preston Hardison, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Office of the Tulalip Tribes.

"For the survival of their culture, they need these ecosystems to be as secure from climate change as they can," he said. But the fear among experts isn't just for the future of the tribes. Lonnie Thompson, a leading climatologist, glaciologist and professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University, said the climate change impacts that Native Americans are experiencing on tribal lands is a harbinger of sorts of what the rest of the world will experience in later years because of climate change.….

A gathering of the Kootenai tribe, in the Pacific Northwest

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