“My family lives off the land,” said Zannita Fast Horse-Pongah a Shoshone-Bannock environmental scientist. “Climate change planning is important to help our tribe protect our natural resources. We need to learn to adapt to our surroundings.”
For generations, Great Basin tribes have lived off the land; hunting, fishing and gathering natural resources for food, medicine and ceremonies. Climate change threatens this way of life. Rising temperatures push native plants and animals outside the bounds of protected sites and reservations and changes their seasonal patterns.
To address these challenges, tribes must assess key resources to understand their vulnerabilities and adapt accordingly. A full vulnerability analysis requires training and support which, until recently, was not readily available to many tribes. The Great Basin LCC and a partnership of other organizations recognized this need, and set out to highlight the importance of collaborative and proactive climate training for tribes and to host climate adaptation workshops.
In 2013, the Great Basin LCC supported its first climate adaptation workshop in partnership with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP), the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the California Nevada Climate Adaptation Program (CNAP) and the Pyramid Lake Tribe who hosted the training in Reno, Nevada. The partnership built upon the existing work and expertise of Sue Rose, Climate Change Program Manager of ITEP, and the Tribal Climate Change Program established in 2009. Twenty-four tribal members attended the first workshop, and the partnership recognized a demand for more. The Great Basin LCC has since funded two additional trainings, one in Bishop, California and one in Fort Hall, Idaho. Sixty-five individuals from 34 tribes participated in the trainings.
The goal of the workshops is to provide tribal professionals with the skills and tools needed to establish successful climate adaptation plans. Through a mix of presentations, small- and large-group discussions, field trips and other activities, participants are introduced to the adaptation planning process. Instructors from ITEP, DRI, the Great Basin LCC, tribes and other organizations discuss successes and failures at the training and provide a comprehensive tool-kit to assist participants as they start conversations with tribal leadership about climate change. Attendees leave the trainings with an outline of a climate plan they can customize for their tribe’s needs and a “how-to” guide for moving forward with vulnerability analyses, which require additional funding.
The next step is to implement these climate adaptation plans. Beyond the Great Basin, tribes in other areas have successfully implemented monitoring programs and begun to see the benefits of planning for climate change. For example, in Michigan, the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe traditionally caught and ate cold water fish from a 61-acre inland lake. As temperatures increased, these fish species began to decline. To address this, the tribe starting monitoring lake temperatures and determined the highest temperature that the fish could tolerate. Once that threshold was crossed, the tribe began stocking the lake with warm-water fish in order to maintain their traditional fishing lifestyle.
In the Great Basin, climate adaptation often entails planning for wildland fires and prolonged drought. Climate adaptation plans can assist tribes as they evaluate plant species that can be re-established and think ahead to what resources might be present in the future as changes continue. The LCC is a resource for tribes at all stages of the planning and implementation process, and LCC staff are exploring ways to expand this support in the future.