Climate ChangeA threat to ecosystems and the cultures based on them.
Low reservoir level in Northern California. Photo courtesy California State University, Sacramento.
Everything is Connected
Our cultures and histories are intertwined with the First Foods, and we harbor considerable knowledge about the best approaches to sustainable preservation and replenishment of these foods. The tribes are working to prepare for the coming changes, including helping salmon in an altered climate with habitat projects designed to help cool down tributaries and exploring alternative hydrosystem operations. These efforts, however, won’t stop a warmer climate. That will require dedicated international cooperation. The tribes have also taken on a role in advocating for the United States to address this issue on a national and international scale. One of the most precious traditional teachings is the concept that “everything is connected.” For thousands of years, the tribes lived in an appropriate and sustainable way on the earth. To properly address this threat, the world must be willing to listen and incorporate the traditional wisdom of the tribes into their activities and actions.
We must begin preparations to maintain our community and our natural resources. We must carry forward our culture and traditions for our tribes’ future and for your own families’ well-being.
For many generations, you will be challenged with a changing climate. But always remember, since time immemorial, we have looked to our elders for their wisdom and guidance, and within our children we will always see hope.
Climate Research and ResourcesClick here for a collection of scientific resources, research, and data sets pertinent to climate change in the Columbia Basin.
photo: Facing Climate Change Project
Tribal Climate Change Strategies and Efforts
Tribal Adaptation PlansThe effects and magnitude of climate change is affected by a variety of conditions, including elevation, topography, forest coverage, and other environmental or ecosystem variables. To properly formulate strategies to address these changes, several of the CRITFC member tribes have published plans specific to their region.
Yakama NationPublished in April, 2016, the Yakama Nation’s Climate Adaptation Plan for the Territories of the Yakama Nation states: This document is an acknowledgment that climate change is real and that it poses a threat to our grandchildren, our culture, and our way of living. This document represents the first collective effort by our many governmental departments and programs to identify (1) important resources and cultural components most likely to be impacted by climate change, (2) work we are currently undertaking that recognizes and will help to reduce climate change impacts, and (3) specific recommendations for deeper analyses of vulnerabilities and risks to our most important interests and adaptation actions that we should implement now. The plan’s goal is to be a starting point for the conversation about climate change and planning for adaptation throughout all of the territories of the Yakama Nation. It is derived from the experience of the Yakama Nation people, its tribal programs, and findings from regional experts on these important topics. “This document is one way we can educate ourselves about current vulnerabilities and future risks and share ideas about actions that we may need to take to build climate resilience. It is a living document that will be revisited and adjusted over time to reflect new information, new understandings, and new priorities.” Download the Yakama Nation Climate Adaptation Plan for the Territories of the Yakama Nation.
Nez Perce TribeTo address climate change induced risks to their homeland, in 2011 the Nez Perce Tribe’s Water Resources Division worked with the Model Forest Policy Program to formulate a climate change adaptation plan for the Clearwater River Subbasin. The intention was to better understand the projected local impacts of climate change and to identify some key adaptation strategies to best preserve the natural resources of the Clearwater River subbasin. The plan is the result of a year of community team effort, deep and broad information gathering, critical analysis, and thoughtful planning. It addresses local climate risks, fits local conditions and culture, and takes advantage of identified opportunities. The main emphasis of the climate change adaptation plan was on forest and water resources and the potential economic impacts of climate change on those resources. This climate change adaptation plan aims to begin the process of adapting to those climate impacts that cannot be avoided by developing strategies to protect forest and water resources and ensure the economic stability of the region. Download the Nez Perce Clearwater River Subbasin Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Nez Perce Tribe Climate Change Coordinator Stefanie Krantz has prepared a climate change overview and its potential impacts to Columbia River basin tribes: Climate Change What Can We Do? Presentation
Additional Research and ResourcesClick here for a collection of other scientific resources, research, and data sets pertinent to climate change in the Columbia River basin.
Analysis of Columbia Basin Water and Fish Resources
Climate Change Challenges for Columbia Basin Fish
Mainstem Rivers (Columbia and Snake Rivers)
Threats or issues
- Higher summer water temperatures in reservoirs will stress both juvenile and adult fish, affecting their migration timing and survival, and may benefit non-native predatory fish.
- Lower summer flows will increase competition for limited water supplies in tributaries and mainstem rivers for different uses (hydropower, irrigation, fish migration).
Actions that could help address these issues:
- Manage the Columbia and Snake Rivers hydropower system to a greater extent to assist salmon migration and survival.
- Support tribal participation in the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) renegotiation with Canada to ensure that future scenario planning includes consideration of climate change and ecological concerns are included in the next CRT.
Click graph to enlarge.
2015 saw some of the longest stretches of warmer that average water temperature at Bonneville Dam, setting a daily high temperature record nearly 50 times over the summer. During the late spring of 2016, river temperatures followed a similar trajectory in terms of above-normal water temperatures, however favorable weather conditions brought conditions down from record highs later in the season.
Threats or Issues
- Higher summer water temperatures in the tributary watersheds will stress both juvenile and adult fish (All fish life stages have optimum temperature ranges. Warmer temperatures increase juvenile metabolic rates and can impede or kill adults during their upstream migration).
- Lower summer stream flows will change channel structure, impede upstream migration of adult fish and contribute to water temperature increases.
- Higher peak winter flows will likely cause erosion of sediment that can damage salmon/steelhead spawning areas, scour eggs, and “wash out” the emerging fry of fall-spawning populations.
- Earlier spring runoff will alter the migration timing of smolts in snowmelt-dominated systems. Migration patterns have naturally evolved to move juveniles to the ocean at the same time that ocean upwelling delivers important food sources.
- Fish populations at the greatest risk of extinction will likely be those already in habitats that are near the limits of their thermal tolerance, and for those with less resilience and diversity.
Actions that could help address these issues:
- Protect and restore stream connectivity to coldwater refugia (including connections to side channels and the river floodplain).
- Restore ecosystem function to streams and rivers (including riparian restoration, livestock management and other restoration actions).
- Explore means for greater flexibility in the application of water rights and their potential use for ecosystem functions.
- For populations that are most vulnerable, further genetic research into ways of increasing resiliency to climate change is warranted.
- Reduce existing stressors on fish, including fish toxins, habitat degradation, and impediments to fish migration.
Ocean and Estuaries
Sardines swimming in a Pacific Ocean kelp forest. Photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Threats and Issues
- Changing ocean conditions (higher water temperature and ocean acidification) will alter the marine food web and will affect salmon/steelhead
- Sea level rise will likely reduce coastal estuarine habitats used by juvenile salmon.
Actions that could help address these issues:
- Support research into how climate change may affect marine food webs that are critical to salmon and steelhead.
- Protect coastal estuarine habitats that are used by salmon and steelhead.
Prioritization of Habitat and Restored Fish Passage
Grand Coulee Dam.
The Wallowa Mountains, July 2015. That year, more winter precipitation fell as rain, there were drought conditions during the spring, and the area experienced unusually high summer temperatures. By July the mountains were snow-free. For comparison, below is a photo of the mountains in July 2012. (Click images to expand.)
photo: Joseph Canyon, Oregon, by Marc Shandro.