Saturday, July 22, 2017

Climate Change

Our Fragile Climate

Climate change portends many challenges that could threaten the very existence of the Quinault Indian Nation because of its location on the coast of Washington and its dependence on natural resources. The majority of the population resides in the villages of Taholah and Queets – both located on the coast at the mouth of a major river a few feet above sea level.

The Quinault Indian Nation co-hosted the First Stewards Symposium in Washington, DC in 2012 to bring attention to the effects of climate change on coastal indigenous cultures. Impacts on indigenous people – and Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, specifically – include:

Terrestrial Ecosystems and Wildfire: Warmer temperatures and declining snowpack/water will increase stress on forests resulting in increased risk of wildfire and new insect/disease outbreaks. Ecosystems will change as species shift ranges.

Coastal Ecosystems: Ocean acidification severely impacts shellfish as well as pteropods that make up a significant percentage of the salmon diet. QIN culture was built around salmon which have already declined to mere remnants of their historic remarkable abundances.

Food Security, Subsistence and First Foods: Traditional hunting and gathering areas will be impacted. Changes in species composition and habitats are likely. Impacts are likely on salmon and other fish, shellfish, big game animals, berries, roots, medicinal plants.

Community Relocation: Storm surge, coastal erosion and sea level inundation will force relocation of communities such as reservation villages of Taholah and Queets and will force changes in livelihoods and diets. Risk of losing traditional lands and burial grounds.

Water: Increased winter precipitation will not make up for summer flows drastically reduced by lack of glaciers and snowpack. Warmer water will impact salmon habitat. Flooding is expected and will result in loss of 50% of salmon habitat over the next 40-80 years. Safe drinking water and sanitation systems may be jeopardized.

Our strategic response to the climate challenges affecting our natural resources is to develop a climate adaptation strategy to achieve and maintain a permanent state of readiness with regard to natural disasters and to focus on water for fish and future community needs. Part of developing that strategy will involve assessing the condition of our resources and projecting the climate and conditions we anticipate with over the next 20, 50 and 100 years. We can then choose a management direction that will allow us to adapt to changing conditions, continue to meet the revenue needs of the allottees and the Nation, and leave healthy lands and waters as a legacy for future generations. Managing the land to conserve water will be critical to maintain our salmon. This will require participation from the tribal community and all users of the resources.

Climate change is being incorporated into many QIN policies and programs related to the environment, infrastructure, culture and economy. The long-term goal is a healthy, resilient environment and a community of Elders, families and children with the capacity to adapt to climate change with flexible management options, economic opportunities and Quinault cultural continuity.