“We’re going to be developing strategies to preserve tribal customs and culture first and foremost.”
– Colin Wahl,Tulalip Natural Resources Environmental Scientist
By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
Countless studies have shown that since the 1900’s, the Earth’s heat has increased by about 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit. That is at an alarming rate considering that leading up to the Industrial Revolution, the planets heat only increased by about nine degrees over the span of 5,000 years. Due to the burning of fossil fuels, excessive carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere over the last century. Carbon dioxide is produced by humans, animals and plants; but also by human activity such as generating electricity and using gasoline for vehicles.
Carbon dioxide traps radiated heat from the sun, at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the planet’s temperature to increase. The more heat that is trapped, the warmer the planet becomes. If the Earth’s population continues to burn fossil fuels at its current rate, over the next century, future generations will face extreme weather including draughts, floods and storms. Recent studies claim that in the year 2100, heat waves will last up to twenty days and will result in many deaths around the entire world.
Climate change is inevitable, however, many environmentalists believe the process can be slowed by means of conserving energy, utilizing other forms of transportation and recycling. The Tulalip Tribes are among the many tribal nations, environmentalists and scientists studying the cause and effect of climate change and how it will affect future generations.
Tulalip’s Natural Resource Department recently held a community dinner at the Tulalip Administration Building to discuss climate change and how it will impact Tulalip and its surrounding areas.
“It is a great honor to be here to start talking about climate change,” said Tulalip Vice Chairwoman, Teri Gobin. “We are beginning to look at what we can do to help better the environment. I really want to see us building green, utilizing solar power and really ramping up our recycling efforts and the reuse of materials. There’s a lot of things that we’re talking about, in regards to climate change, and we need to start taking those steps in the right direction.”
The community dinner included presentations by Tulalip Natural Resources Environmental Scientist, Colin Wahl, as well as guest speaker Clarita Lefthand-Begay of the Navajo Nation, who is an Environmental Professor at the University of Washington.
Colin’s presentation provided a brief overview of climate change, explaining ocean acidification, sea level rise and how global warming will impact salmon runs in the future.
“Salmon is one of the major issues of climate change we’re concerned about,” explained Colin. “As Patti [Gobin] said, the Tulalips are fish people and the tribal culture really relies on fishing and maintaining the salmon populations. We’re going to have to maintain our protection and restoration strategies in the future, but we might have to adjust some of those strategies to consider how climate change impacts salmon. Some of these strategies might include things like protecting cold water habitat in streams and rivers as well as generally trying to slow the progression of climate change through policies that actually decrease carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.”
Colin stated that due to the impacts from sea level rise, various areas of the reservation will experience beach loss. Areas that will be affected include Tulalip Bay, Hermosa Beach, Priest Point and the Qwuloolt Estuary. Colin used charts to compare and contrast the areas today and the same area eighty years in the future. He also explained that the Natural Resources Department is in the early stages of developing a Climate Change Adaption Plan which will take approximately six months to complete before the implementation process begins.
“We’re going to be developing strategies to preserve tribal customs and culture first and foremost,” Colin stated. “We’re also developing strategies to protect tribal property and infrastructure. We’re working with all the different departments within the administration, including Planning in particular, they’ll be an essential element throughout the process. We also need to protect and restore treaty resources, or continue to do so, so that the Tribe’s customs and culture can extend into the future.
“Historically, Indigenous cultures are very resilient in the Puget Sound area,” he continued. “The ancestors of the Tulalip Tribes, like the salmon, have adapted to the changing environments for thousands of years. This is a little more difficult now, because in the past the people could follow the species wherever they went. Since treaty times, the tribes are tied to place, tied to a reservation, tied to these legally defined boundaries. So, there might be issues with species shifts where there’s more salmon up north compared to south.”
Clarita spoke with the community before leading an open forum discussion. During her presentation she spoke in detail about the dangers of climate change, stating that by the year 2100, the earth will regularly experience extreme heat waves, air pollution as well as water and food borne illnesses. She also states that the food of future generations including shellfish, fish, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables will all be negatively affected by climate change. Clarita explained that the populations most affected by climate change will be elders, children, pregnant women, individuals with compromised immune systems as well as poverty-stricken families.
The climate change dinner concluded with an open discussion for the community to voice their concerns regarding the impacts of climate change. Clarita and the Natural Resources team wrote documented the many concerns. Following the discussion, the participants were given five post-it stickers, each a different color, and asked to rate their top five concerns. Natural Resources will utilize and refer to this data while developing the adaptation plan throughout the next six months.
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commissiont
Climate change isn’t happening to some of us. It’s happening to all of us, and it’s going to take all of us to meet its challenges.
A recent report from the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington brings the issue of climate change home. Home to the ocean, beaches, rivers and forests that support our treaty-protected rights and resources.
Tribes are closely connected to the natural world and we are seeing the increasing effects of climate change throughout the region: Higher air and water temperatures, disappearing glaciers, decreasing summer streamflows, rising sea levels and stronger winter storms.
Climate change worsens factors that are already affecting our resources, such as the continued loss of salmon habitat faster than it can be restored. When we add projected population growth to the mix, the future looks grim.
Climate change is the most significant environmental event of our lifetime. That’s why we want to focus attention and work together with local, state and federal governments and others to address its effects.
We applaud the state of Washington for leading the nation by using the state Clean Air Act to establish a cap on carbon pollution that is the main cause of climate change.
We think Gov. Inslee’s call for a carbon tax is a good idea. It could provide a big boost to clean energy, forest health and other solutions to address climate change.
The tax would be levied on any company that generates or imports electricity, natural gas or oil, such as power plants and refineries. It would be the first of its kind in the nation, and would encourage other states to follow Washington’s lead.
In the meantime, tribes are conducting vulnerability assessments and implementing adaptation plans to protect tribal communities and resources from the effects of climate change.
Many of the actions needed in salmon recovery also reduce the effects of climate change. Stream buffers, functioning floodplains and adequate instream flows cool waters and protect water supplies. They help create resilience in salmon and other species by helping them adapt to climate change.
Tribes have always lived along the coast and in the watersheds of western Washington. We know these lands and waters better than anyone else.
We are committed to sharing centuries of traditional knowledge combined with today’s science to help others identify, track and adapt to climate change trends across the region and throughout the world.
To learn more about climate change, how it affects tribes, and what the tribes are doing about it, visit us on the web at nwtreatytribes.org/climatechange.
TULALIP — From the deck of a 30-foot research boat owned by the Tulalip Tribes, Terry Williams pointed out the remnants of a bulkhead along Mission Beach where not long ago there was a string of beach houses.
In 2013, the leases on the tribal property weren’t renewed and the homes were removed. The main concern was erosion of the beach and the bluffs overhead damaging the fragile marine environment below.
Williams, who is the Tulalips’ treaty rights commissioner, said increased rainfall and stronger windstorms would saturate the sandy bluffs and cause them to slide down onto the houses below.
“It gets to the consistency of a milkshake and tends to fall,” Williams said.
On a bright fall day, several parts of the bluff showed clear evidence of slides. Houses were visible above.
Coastal landslides tend to silt up the nearshore environment, which is considered a critical piece of the salmon ecosystem.
“Those areas are really important for forage fish for threatened and endangered salmon,” said Joshua Meidav, the Tulalip Tribes’ conservation science program manager.
The beaches were created and rejuvenated over millennia by the gradual erosion of the bluffs. Development along the shore, including bulkheads, docks and clifftop homes, interrupted that natural process.
Now when the bluff slides, it tends to come down all at once, Williams said.
“The reality is that this is all changing,” he said.
An issue of rights
Climate change is a concern to Williams and the Tulalips in ways that go well beyond the usual worries about flooding and slides. It’s an issue of treaty rights.
While treaty rights are most commonly understood in the context of dividing the salmon harvest, their reach extends beyond the fishing grounds to tribal relationships with local, state and federal governments, said Ray Fryberg Sr., the Tulalips’ Executive Director of Natural Resources.
Most commonly that manifests in cooperative work with federal, state and local governments, and even private landowners, on many kinds of projects designed to restore salmon habitat.
On other occasions, the tribes have sought redress in the federal courts when they felt government wasn’t living up to its obligations.
“We’re like the last vanguard,” Fryberg said. “They have policies and procedures but there’s no enforcement.”
Most recently, that manifested in the “culverts case.”
In 2001, 21 tribes argued successfully that Washington state violated their treaty rights because culverts that carried streams under roads harmed salmon runs.
It was a significant advancement of treaty rights into the realm of habitat restoration.
“The culvert case is the case that says there has to be a restoration so that ongoing harm doesn’t continue,” said Robert Anderson, a law professor and the director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.
In this case, the state of Washington was found to have damaged habitat for salmon, and was ordered to make repairs.
Habitat protection and restoration were key elements in the second phase of a landmark decision by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt.
In 1974, the first phase of the Boldt decision provided the basis for the co-management system, in which tribal and non-tribal fishermen divide the salmon harvest each year. The second phase, decided in 1984, focused on the habitat for the salmon.
“Phase II said that there’s not going to be a treaty resource of the salmon unless the environment is protected,” Fryberg said. “We get a certain amount of say-so in that.”
The part of the Phase II Boldt decision that obligated the federal government to restore habitat was overturned on appeal. However, the federal appeals court still said that the state of Washington and the tribes needed to take steps to protect and enhance the fisheries.
What those steps should be was left unstated.
“It’s difficult to argue that the federal government has an obligation to restore the ecosystem to, say, pre-treaty conditions, or treaty-time conditions,” Anderson said.
Some of the damage to habitat had already been done by that time, he said. Also, it’s a lot harder to assess the damage done by small changes, such as a single tide gate on private land, compared with the cumulative effects of the state’s culvert construction.
Momentum for restoration work can be created, however, when treaty rights are considered in tandem with the Endangered Species Act’s listing of various populations of salmon and steelhead.
“I think there’s a strong argument with the federal government to take steps to restore habitat,” Anderson said. “Maybe not a legal argument, but a treaty trust obligation to do it, and that they should do it.”
A seat at the table
In practical terms, that means that the tribes have been aggressive in forming partnerships to pursue environmental projects.
Tribes also have broad leeway to take on projects of their own that help restore habitat, or at least halt the progress of degradation.
It’s not a blanket authority to do anything anywhere, but it means tribes have a seat at the table whenever a treaty trust resource is affected.
As a coordinating body among the 20 treaty tribes of Western Washington, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission has a role supporting restoration programs to have a greater impact.
A lot of the commission’s work focuses on the marine nearshore environment, said Fran Wilshusen, the NWIFC’s habitat services director. That also means studying how the marine environment interacts with estuaries, river systems and the upland watersheds.
“We’re trying to pull the lens back and look at how the whole system is connected,” Wilshusen said.
That includes small projects, such as the Tulalips’ 2013 pilot study to release beavers in the western Cascades, where their activity of building dams is expected to help return the upper reaches of streams to their natural state, which happens to be better spawning territory for salmon.
One project under way is an agreement between the Tulalip Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a 1,280-acre tract in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a source of wild huckleberries.
There aren’t that many places left in the mountains that are accessible by road that still provide habitat for the berries, which are important to tribal culture, said Libby Halpin Nelson, a senior environmental policy analyst with the Tulalips.
“They are healthy and they are a traditional food that is always looked for in ceremonies,” Nelson said.
The project includes removing small conifers that could “shade-out” the berries. In essence, the tribe is mimicking the effect forest fires used to have before fire suppression became standard response, she said.
Rights at risk
For all the work that’s been done to protect and restore salmon habitat, the fish runs continue to decline.
In spring, projections of low numbers of returning salmon, especially coho, led to a breakdown of negotiations between the tribes and the state. Tempers flared and fishermen protested when tribes were given permission to catch a small number of spring Chinook while the non-native sportsmen had to wait.
The challenges looming on the horizon are even more formidable.
A poster on Fryberg’s office wall has a picture of the late Nisqually leader Billy Frank Jr. and his warning to all Native American tribes: “As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads, and we are running out of time.”
With each new study, it becomes clearer that changes are elapsing at an increasing speed.
“Ten, 15 years ago, what we said would happen in 50 years is already happening,” Fryberg said.
Williams’ entire career has been focused on building bridges between tribal, state and federal governments.
Shortly after the Boldt decision, he was involved in setting up the co-management regime in the state, and then negotiating the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada and its First Nations, backed by research developed by Tulalip staff scientists.
In the 1990s he was tapped to open the Indian Office in the Environmental Protection Agency. But many efforts to restore salmon runs were coming up short.
“We were putting tremendous amount of money into restoration and we were losing ground,” Williams said.
He realized that many federal and state agencies operated in their own silos, and often they might set regulations that aren’t in line with each other or broader goals.
“It’s the authority of each individual agency, federal, state or local, that gives them the ability to create rules and standards,” Williams said. “Eleven agencies have independent programs and authorities in Puget Sound. Most are not geared toward Puget Sound recovery goals.”
While a court has allowed some of that work to start up again, the government’s order came with an announcement that the federal government would consult with tribes on major infrastructure projects in the future.
The consultation process already existed since President Obama created a cabinet-level position to coordinate government-tribal relations, Anderson said.
“Here the Obama Administration seems to be signaling that, ‘Hey, maybe we ought to be doing more,’” he said.
That may lead simply to more federal agencies talking to each other and more often with tribal governments, which is still a step forward.
From the Tulalip research boat, Williams pointed out a section of Hermosa Point where he’s lived since the 1970s. Here too, the bluffs have slid, and some of the houses are perched on the edge, hanging over the lip.
“When I bought my house we were looking at getting closer to the bluff, but decided that wasn’t a good idea,” he said.
If stronger regulations are enacted, it would prevent some houses from being built, and that would translate into lower insurance costs for government. That would also help protect fragile ecosystems.
“The more we can understand it, the better we can prepare,” Williams said.
“What we’re seeing in climate impacts right now is just the beginning.”
Durant, Oklahoma – It’s nearly June. Every day, the Earth brings Darryl “Grey Eagle” Brown closer to the Sun, to heaven, to the Creator. That means it’s nearly time for the Eagle Sun Dance ceremony, a 12-day communal gathering of fasting, thanksgiving and prayer that takes place around the summer solstice, when the Creator is especially near.
Fifty-six-year-old Brown is a member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma and a spiritual leader for a band of tribal members seeking to practise their indigenous religion. He learned the Sun Dance from another Choctaw elder who learned it from a tribe in the northern Great Plains. It is a pan-Indian dance – a blend of traditions and historic knowledge passed between the tribes of the Great Plains.
Brown has held this ceremony on his family’s land outside Durant, Oklahoma, each summer for 20 years. Every year, it seems to get hotter, he says, and the weather less predictable. Some years, they dance on parched ground under a cloudless sky. At other times, they’re nearly blown away by hot, angry winds. Last year, they were drenched in torrential floods. But regardless of what the weather holds, Brown must dance anyway because he feels the Choctaw – and the earth – needs him to.
“Our ceremonies help keep life in balance,” he says.
‘The earth is speaking, but man won’t listen’
Brown believes that both his people and the earth they inhabit are deeply out of balance, damaging one another as a result. “Man’s pollution has altered the earth,” he says. “The earth is speaking now, but man won’t listen.”
In Oklahoma, the earth seems to be shouting. From 2010 to 2015, the land plunged the state into a punishing drought, bringing the Choctaw nation to the brink of a water crisis. In 2011, it was the second-hottest summer on record, with more than 35 consecutive days of temperatures above 37 degrees Celsius. Then last summer, the missing rains arrived, but in devastating 30cm deluges. The seemingly incessant floods tore through the state all summer long, destroying houses and wiping out crops.
Brown knows the outside world has a term for these catastrophic weather shifts: climate change. He knows there have been summits and debates and policies on the matter. But here in Choctaw nation, Brown doesn’t place much stock in what the federal government or the United Nations have to say. The earth is speaking – speaking through thunderous rains, violent tornadoes and scrambled seasons.
“The seasons aren’t in order any more,” Brown says. “I remember winter in Oklahoma. I remember the ponds freezing up and staying that way for months. Now, we get a few days of cold, but no real winter.”
Historically, the Choctaw have proved to be adaptive to whatever nature has given them, says Scott Ketchum, a Choctaw member and PhD candidate studying Choctaw cultural history at the University of Oklahoma. “But now, you have a thunderstorm in January that normally marks the change of a growing cycle, and then the next week, you have a snow storm. What do you do with that?”
The earth is out of balance, Brown says, and his people are partly to blame. “It’s written in our teachings, the knowledge of how to take care of the earth,” he says. “We’re out of balance with that teaching.”
The Choctaw cultural identity has always hinged on an intimate connection with the environment, says Wilson Roberts, a tribal elder and spiritual teacher. “In my mother’s teaching, I was always taught that all animals and life-bearing things are just like us,” he says. “We’re a part of them, they’re a part of us. We’re supposed to take care of each other and look out for each other.”
The Choctaw have forgotten this, Roberts says. And what’s worse, they’ve failed to impart their knowledge to the settlers who now control much of their ancestral homeland. The Choctaw were forcibly removed to Oklahoma from their lands in Alabama and Mississippi in 1831. Twenty-five percent of the population died during the journey, and those who remained were converted to Christianity. “The government came in and took away everything,” Roberts says. “I’m talking about everything …. They burned our pipes and whatever we had that they thought might have some sort of ‘energy’, anything that was sacred to us.”
For Roberts, 76, this isn’t some far-flung part of his history – these are his grandparents’ stories.
The removal marked the beginning of the imbalance, Roberts says. “I always tell people that our downfall as a Choctaw nation is that we gave up what the Creator gave us,” he says. “We didn’t fight hard enough to keep it, and because of that, we’ve lost our continuity with the Creator.”
Healing the earth
Roberts and Brown believe that the only way to bring healing to both the earth and their tribe is for the Choctaw to reclaim their traditional relationship to their environment – and then spread those teachings to the rest of the US.
In a modest trailer that serves as a government office building, Ryan Spring labours to do just that. As the director of historic preservation for the Choctaw nation, it is Spring’s job to study his tribe’s past, relearn its traditions and help people like Roberts and Brown pass it on.
“The more culture and heritage we give back, the more we become whole again,” Spring says.
For Spring, a good place to start is by re-teaching traditional gardening. Historically, the Choctaw were adept farmers whose ceremonies and gatherings revolved around the growing cycles. Since their removal, however, they’ve become highly dependent on processed foods handed out through state welfare programmes. A return to traditional gardening will help members regain independence from state handouts, reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke brought on from the unhealthy foods they are given – and reduce their imprint on the environment.
There is a growing interest in learning traditional gardening, Spring says, but climate change poses a formidable challenge.
“The growing seasons are getting more and more unpredictable,” Spring says. “We’ll have longer cold snaps or six-year droughts. There’s no average.”
Spring teaches members to keep small gardens that are easier to manage, regardless of the weather. Brown has one, and he has learned to shift his planting and harvesting year-to-year and season-to-season, depending on what the weather appears to be doing. He can’t depend on regular, consistent cycles like his grandfather taught him to do, but by paying close attention to the weather – by listening to the earth – he can grow his food anyway.
Likewise, he has learned to perform his ceremonies not according to the seasons but according to the cycles of the Sun and Moon. This too is a departure from the Choctaw’s ancestral ways, Ketchum says, which revolved entirely around growing cycles. “You used to know to start a particular ceremony in June when a certain plant bloomed,” he says. “But now, it might be June and the plant won’t bloom at all or maybe it will have bloomed early.”
This sort of creativity and adaptability is a good thing, though, Brown says – perhaps even a divine thing.
“The weather will do what it does and we have to be adaptable,” he says. “We have to get creative, we have to find new ways to keep [ceremonial items] dry, which normally would already be dry or to hold a sweat lodge even when it’s chilly outside. But creativity is part of the [Creator], we have that creativity in us.”
Creativity is an essential feature of religious ceremonies like the one Brown is preparing to host. In preparation for such a ceremony, traditional families would historically have spent weeks weaving beautiful, brightly-coloured baskets to hold food for the dancers and sacrifices for the Creator. There will be no baskets this year, however: climate change and industrial agriculture have all but wiped out river cane, the plant used to make the baskets.
The bamboo-like plant used to cover Oklahoma, growing in kilometre-wide swaths called “cane breaks”. Now, as much as 98 percent of it is gone, says Roger Cain, a river cane specialist from the nearby Cherokee Nation. “We had a massive die-off in 2011,” he explains. “We had two weeks in February where it was below [-17C]. I haven’t seen that kind of weather in my whole life.”
Flooding in 2015 further emaciated the river cane population. “We had floods wipe out entire cane breaks,” Spring said. “It’s grown back some since then; it’s surviving, but not on the level where we can use it to make baskets.”
Cain has worked with the Cherokee nation to declare river cane a culturally-protected plant species and has begun a project to map what populations remain in an attempt to preserve them. He holds regular “wild gardening” sessions where he visits these cane breaks and weeds out any invasive species that pose a threat to the plants. He is hopeful that with time and care, he will be able to restore these cane breaks to a level where tribes can resume regular large-scale basket weaving.
As Brown prepares to host the Sun Dance ceremony, he is keenly aware that everything he is doing is different from the ways of his ancestors. So much has changed. So much has been lost. But he will dance anyway. He will dance with what he has. “[Because] our ceremonies are helping,” he says. “They’re helping the cycles, they’re helping the earth.”
Funding for this article was provided in part by the Earth Journalism Network.
NEW YORK — Not far from the negotiations for a new global development agenda that took place between heads of state at the United Nations General Assembly last month, a small group of female leaders gathered out of the limelight to sign another historic agreement.
The delegation chose not to meet at UN headquarters in east Midtown but on a traditional Native American tribal territory in Central Park’s East Meadow.
Seven women representing eight different tribes signed a treaty to unite the indigenous women of the Americas in friendship to protect the land and people from the harms of climate change and environmental degradation.
In what organizers said was the first-ever indigenous women’s treaty, the women pledged to support the rights of indigenous peoples, commit nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to protect the planet, and demand immediate changes to laws that have led to environmental destruction.
“We’re saying this is the line. We’re done. The destruction stops now,” said Pennie Opal Plant, one of the treaty’s lead signers.
The United Nations recognizes that women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because they constitute a majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on natural resources for their livelihood.
“Women’s role as central stakeholders is one of the most important, yet untold stories of climate change. If we are to have a fighting chance at restoring the health of the Earth and our communities, women’s experiences and knowledge must be brought to the forefront,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, the executive director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), at an event where the treaty was later presented.
The signed treaty contends that the laws of Mother Earth “have been violated to such an extreme degree that the sacred system of life is now threatened and does not have the capacity for life to continue safely in the way in which it has existed.”
Opal Plant, who is of the Yaqui, Choctaw and Cherokee tribes, was instrumental in shaping the treaty. She grew up in the shadow of Chevron and Shell refineries in the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, where she saw environmental degradation first-hand. She has organized nonviolent prayer walks in her home city led by Native American elders, but after connecting with other women during a gathering of nature rights advocates in Ecuador 2014, Opal Plant saw opportunity to launch a worldwide movement. She joined several other indigenous leaders from the US and Ecuador — Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca tribe, Patricia Gualinga Montalvo and Blanca Chancoso of the Kichwa, and Gloria Hilda Ushigua Santi of the Sápara.
“When women unite and commit to something, shifts happen,” said Montalvo, speaking through an interpreter. “I feel strongly that it’s a time to be heard and for actions to take place.”
Montalvo played a large role in successfully fighting the Ecuadorian government in 2012 in a landmark Inter-American Court of Human Rights case, Sarayaku v. Ecuador, in which the Ecuadorian government was found guilty of rights violations after authorizing oil exploration on Sarayaku lands without prior consultation with the indigenous community.
Opal Plant and her treaty co-signers presented their document at an event hosted by WECAN on Sept. 29, a Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action.
Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and they are central to solutions, said Orielle Lake at the event.
In the coming months, Opal Plant and her co-signers will create a website to expand the treaty beyond the Americas and allow other groups to sign online. In December, they plan to bring the treaty to COP21, the Paris Climate Conference, and hold another ceremony where more indigenous women leaders will join.
Montalvo’s indigenous community in Sarayaku is constructing a canoe that will travel from Ecuador to France. “The canoe is a symbol of Sarayaku, a symbol of our living forest,” said Montalvo. “We will bring it all the way to Paris so it can navigate the River Seine and so we will be heard.”
In New York, WECAN also presented a Women’s Climate Declaration, which includes a demand to bring back atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to below 350 parts per million — which many scientists agree is a level that avoids catastrophic global warming — and an aim to ensure that women’s groups have access to funding to adapt to climate change that is already happening. The declaration already has garnered over 2 million signatures and will be delivered at COP21 later this year.
Women comprise 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change, according to a 2010 report by the Women’s Environmental Network.
“I ask that as temperature rises, that we rise,” said Orielle Lake.
As a drought tightens its grip on the Pacific Northwest, burning away mountain snow and warming rivers, state officials and Native American tribes are becoming increasingly worried that one of the region’s most precious resources — wild salmon — might disappear.
Native Americans, who for centuries have relied on salmon for food and ceremonial rituals, say the area’s five species of salmon have been declining for years, but the current threat is worse than anything they have seen.
“I grew up always having salmon,” said Lorraine Loomis, fisheries director for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, whose culture is so intertwined with the migrating fish that they’re called the “People of the Salmon.” Salmon feasts once marked every phase of life on the reservation north of Seattle — naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, memorials to the dead. Now they are few, she said.
“We’re very worried,” said N. Kathryn Brigham, chair of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, Ore., which helps manage fisheries for the Yakama Nation and the Warm Springs, Nez Perce and the Umatilla tribes in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
An estimated quarter-million salmon, more than half of the spring spawning run up the Columbia River, perished, probably because of a disease that thrives in warm water and causes gill rot, officials said. Normally cool streams in the river basin are 13 degrees warmer than the 60 degrees preferred by salmon, Brigham said.
Salmon in the Northwest come in a variety — chinook, pink, coho, sockeye and chum — and that diversity has helped them survive for eons. When they hatch, some babies stay in place to eat and grow before migrating to the Pacific Ocean. Others swim to the ocean right away.
Adults stay in the Pacific for three to seven years before returning to streams where they hatched by swimming through Puget Sound in Washington or up the Columbia River, which runs from Alberta, Canada, to Oregon.
But as the climate warms, more salmon are starting to move farther north to Canada, experts say. Swimming to cooler waters in the north signals a major shift in behavior for the fish, and public officials are watching the trend with dread.
In addition to their significance to Native American communities, the salmon are worth more than $1 billion annually to each state’s sport fishing and tourism industries, which support tens of thousands of jobs.
Oregon and Washington officials recently closed dozens of recreational and commercial fishing spots. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trucked 160,000 salmon 100 miles from a hatchery in central Oregon to a cooler part of the Columbia River.
As more fish vanish, the Swinomish, whose reservation skirts five bays, rely on handouts from the state and tribal councils. They accept 5,000 to 10,000 pieces per year to freeze, Loomis said.
“There’s just no water,” she said. “The glaciers are almost gone. The snow in the mountains is not good.” Even if salmon survive, but in tiny, remnant populations, “we won’t be able to sustain ourselves.”
Off the coast of Oregon, wild chinook salmon are gathering for a fall spawning run up the Columbia, but experts say there’s a good chance many will never arrive to lay eggs in the streams and brooks where they hatched several years ago.
Besides facing long-standing hurdles such as dams, the fish now will encounter a large patch of warming water. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Rich Johnson said the cooler ocean water probably will signal to the salmon that it’s okay to migrate up the warmer Columbia.
Earlier this year, clusters of dead and dying sockeye salmon were discovered in Oregon’s Lower Deschutes River, a Columbia tributary. Officials counted at least 100 fish but speculated that scavengers ate dozens more.
Scientists fear the chinook will suffer the sockeye’s fate. Die-offs mean that fewer eggs will hatch and hatchlings might not survive the warm water.
“The bleakest, most dire outcome is if this drought is sustained for a couple more years like California,” said Greg McMillan, science and conservation director for Oregon’s Deschutes River Alliance. Some populations “could go extinct,” he said.
But wild salmon have an array of survival tools. The species do not all migrate at the same time, and their hatchlings do not all behave the same. Some remain in shallow streams two years after hatching, while others head for the Pacific.
A new oil refinery is the last thing you might expect Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration to be courting. After all, Inslee has developed a national reputation as a champion of curbing the use of fossil fuels.
And yet, Inslee’s administration has worked for months to facilitate such a project along the Columbia River. A Texas-based energy company wants to site a combined crude oil and biofuel refinery in Longview, Washington. The company’s goal is to capitalize on low carbon fuel standards championed by West Coast political leaders, including Inslee.
The refinery is a project Inslee could have the final say in approving.
Inslee is a politician on a tightrope: He’s cultivating the reputation of a national leader on climate change policy. And he’s also the head of a government that is working with businessmen whose project calls for three trainloads of North Dakota crude oil to be hauled into his state each week by way of the Columbia River Gorge.
Since then, Inslee has said publicly that he knows next to nothing about the project.
“Have not heard much about it other than what you have reported in the media,” Inslee told reporters when asked about it at a May 28 news conference.
Emails obtained through a public records request by OPB and EarthFix tell a different story when it comes to Inslee’s administration. They document how Inslee’s cabinet and staff have been in discussions with Riverside Energy CEO Lou Soumas for nearly a year.
“They are anxious to tie us in with their just issued draft Clean Fuels Standard process and other activities important to the (state’s) energy and commerce plans,” Soumas wrote. “I’m meeting with several of Inslee’s direct reports on Wednesday in Olympia and they hope for a positive update on concrete progress on the project.”
A week later, Brian Bonlender, the state’s director of commerce, and Matt Steurwalt, Inslee’s executive director of policy, held a meeting with Soumas in Steurwalt’s office, documents show.
When asked about the emails during an appearance on The Seattle Channel earlier this week, Inslee said he expects his staff to have such discussions.
“So I think I’d probably categorize these as: we’re trying to figure out what they have in mind,” Inslee said. “This does not presage any agreement whatsoever or opposition whatsoever because you have to know what you’re doing.”
Environmental groups, including the Columbia Riverkeeper and the Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, say such discussions should be happening in public view to ensure an honest process.
“It’s very concerning, it’s very worrisome that this kind of communication, this kind of lobbying would be happening with the governor’s office outside the view of the public, on an issue of this magnitude,” Sightline Policy Director Eric de Place said. “We’re talking about a very environmentally risky project in a key part of the region.”
Energy projects on the scale of Riverside’s proposal must undergo a review by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. It’s designed to assess whether projects comply with state statute.
Jim Luce, an attorney who chaired the council between 2001 and 2011, said he always cautioned the governor not to comment on proposed projects.
“When I was EFSEC chair, working with the governor’s staff, I encouraged — in fact, the staff encouraged — the governor to say nothing regarding a potential application because the public might conclude that there had been a predetermination or a predisposition toward a specific outcome on a project, which the governor would then have to finally decide,” Luce said.
But, he said, staff in the governor’s administration must toe a fine line. They advise on and promote the governor’s energy policies, yet the governor ultimately must make an independent decision on projects that might benefit those policies.
The refinery outlined in Soumas’ pitches to the Port of Longview and state officials aligns with Inslee’s push for cleaner fuels. With California, Oregon and British Columbia having passed low carbon fuels regulations, Soumas has said he sees Washington’s adoption of those rules as a matter of time.
Soumas has pitched his project to economic leaders in Longview as “the U.S. largest advanced renewable fuels facility” having “the lowest carbon footprint of any U.S. refinery” and capable of meeting the state’s proposed low carbon fuel standards.
Two thirds of the facility’s production would handle crude oil shipped by train from the Bakken shale of North Dakota. The other third would handle used cooking, seed and vegetable oils.
The refinery would rely on new technologies to create a mix of low carbon jet fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products for use in Portland and Southwest Washington.
Soumas has also estimated the refinery would generate 400 construction jobs and $8 million in tax revenue.
Inslee’s office told the Longview Daily News it sees opportunity in the project.
Keith Phillips, Inslee’s special assistant on climate and energy, said Riverside’s proposal is intriguing.
“The idea that they’re bringing biofuels and green jet fuels and cleaner gasoline — that’s all intriguing, and we’re very interested in it,” Phillips said. “But we haven’t made any explicit link to the clean fuels standards in part because we are working respectfully with the Legislature on ‘can we reach agreement on how to move forward.’”
Phillips said he and other staff have intentionally limited Inslee’s involvement in such discussions.
“We have been very careful with him and he has insisted on that,” he said. “He knows there have been clean refineries proposed. But has not met with the proponents, and has not been briefed by staff on the details. He’s waiting to see whether he has to perform a former legal role on the project.
de Place of the Sightline Institute said the track record of Northwest biofuel ventures is “one of failure.”
Two projects initially built as biofuel refineries in the Pacific Northwest now handle fossil fuels. Facilities in Clatskanie, Oregon, and in Hoquiam, Washington, failed as biofuel projects and now handle crude oil.
“The prospects of adding a third such site in the same region strikes me as one that’s really just a stalking horse for the conventional oil industry,” de Place said. “And as such I don’t really see why the governor’s office would be participating in the way they are alleged to be participating.”
KUOW/EarthFix reporter Ashley Ahearn and Northwest News Network reporter Austin Jenkins contributed to this report.
For Healthy Rivers, Farms, Communities in the Face of Climate Change
Written by Cathy Baker, Federal Director of Government Relations, April 21, 2015
Photograph by John Marshall
On the eve of Earth day, the White House recognized Puget Sound as a model for climate change adaptation, making it one of four places in the U.S. where increased cooperation will aid in preparation for the impacts of climate change –including sea level rise, drought, flooding and wildfires.
The Puget Sound region was showcased in the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative for outstanding efforts in local, state, federal and tribal partnerships around Puget Sound recovery. The release highlights recent successes and builds momentum for efforts to restore floodplains, preserve farmland and reduce flood risk through the innovative Floodplains by Design program and Snohomish County’s Sustainable Land Strategy.
“We are living with the evidence of a changing climate,” said Mike Stevens, Washington State director for The Nature Conservancy. “Longer and more intense winter flooding, low river flows in the summer, and rising seas are affecting both cities and farmlands in the Puget Sound region. “
In Snohomish County, local leaders have developed the Snohomish Sustainable Lands Strategy which brings together Tulalip and Stillaguamish Tribes, government agencies, and local agriculture, and other interests to tackle these issues together.
“Thanks to Sustainable Lands Strategy partners, leadership by Snohomish County Surface Water Management, and the support of the Floodplains by Design program, the county has an assessment of risk and a plan to make the river valleys more resilient in the face of those risks, to the benefit of both people and nature,” Stevens said.
“We are trying to prepare for the future under changing climate conditions,” said Terry Williams of the Tulalip Tribes, a key partner in collaborative efforts underway in Snohomish County. “In the Snohomish River Delta we are getting 500-year-floods more frequently, early spring flooding, early drought. Eighty percent of the delta was diked 100 years ago, and we lost a lot of fish habitat. Mix that with land use that includes forestry, agriculture and urban development—all of that affects the landscape.”
“We’re figuring out how to address these landscapes, these changing conditions, and capitalize on them so we become stronger, rather than weaker,” he said.
“This designation speaks volumes about what we’ve accomplished,” said Tristan Klesick, of Klesick Family Farms. “It’s not easy work, but it’s valuable and important. We have to be stewards of the environment and the economy – we have to have a place for salmon and salamanders, corn, broccoli and milk, homes, schools and hospitals.“
“We look forward to engaging in this opportunity to build upon our efforts to bring government and our communities together to address the natural resource challenges we face,” said Snohomish County Council Chair Dave Somers.
The Nature Conservancy has contributed both science and leadership to this work.
Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp appeared before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. on March 24 to request federal funding to support the relocation of homes, public buildings and schools out of a tsunami zone in the coastal village of Taholah.
Sharp’s testimony came a week after the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, of which she is president, hosted a summit, “Asserting Native Resilience – Protecting and Enhancing Tribal Resources and Sovereignty in the face of Climate Change.”
After her House subcommittee testimony, Sharp – a University of Washington-educated lawyer and former state administrative law judge – talked with ICTMN about the summit and what she believes the next steps must be to stem the tide of climate change and the devastation that would follow.
Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, during the 2013 Canoe Journey/Paddle to Quinault: “Climate change is expected to significantly alter the ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest, and Tribes and Native communities are among the most climate-sensitive groups within this geographic area.” (Richard Walker)
What are some of the extreme examples of climate change that were presented at the meeting?
As we have known for some time, our ocean waters are acidifying due to increased pH levels caused by carbonic acids that result from the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of the carbon released by humans enter the ocean, as well as rivers and lakes.
Generally speaking, there is nothing new about this. But the increased levels of carbon released by humans since the industrial age has had major impacts and, as population has expanded in the U.S. and elsewhere, the increased amount of automobile emissions as well as other fossil fuel emissions have led to ever-increasing change in the form of water temperature increases and acidification.
So should this concern us? It absolutely should, because it is impacting the ecosystem. People should never think they live in some form of protected bubble, or that they can ignore the environment and get along just fine.
People are just as dependent on a healthy ecosystem as every other living creature on Earth, and anytime any specie is in danger, we are affected. But, whether due to fear of losing their job or a feeling of helplessness or some inaccurate information they might have heard somewhere, far too many people do nothing about it. They ignore it or even deny it. That’s just not good enough.
Everyone who lives on our Mother Earth has a responsibility to protect her. Everyone who drinks water in one form or another has a duty to assure it is pure. And every person who breathes God’s air is responsible for its quality.
The ocean is warming. It has become acidified. The sea level is increasing, increasing the intensity of storm surges, as well as flooding, erosion, forest fires and habitat loss. Glaciers have melted or are melting, causing rivers and lakes to warm and making them uninhabitable for fish. We feel all of these impacts at Quinault Nation. Our Mount Anderson glacier is gone. It was there for thousands of years and over the past few years it simply melted. That is warming the water and making salmon restoration more challenging.
What are some innovative ways tribal nations are responding to the challenges presented by climate change?
There are innovative approaches being used or planned by some tribal nations but the bottom line is that Mother Nature’s ways are best. Fish and wildlife need a healthy environment, just as people do. Securing those resources and protecting them for future generations requires respect for the environment. It’s an old tribal value to take only what you need from Nature to survive, and use all that you take. It’s also an old value to base the decisions one makes today on the impacts they will have seven generations from now.
As my very good friend Billy Frank Jr. used to say, “You have got to see the big picture.” Those who rush to drill every drop of oil they can now so they can get as rich as they can, regardless of the impact on the environment, do not see the big picture. Those who neglect the environment when they use pesticides or buy high gas-consumption cars don’t see the big picture. Those who neglect instream flows in their quest for irrigation water or build dams on rivers simply do not see the big picture.
But to answer your question, there are many ways that tribes are being innovative in responding to the climate change problem. This is probably the biggest environmental problem that exists in the world today. So tribes have been gathering, as nations, on a national and international scale to share ideas, consolidate plans and garner strength in their efforts to have a strong voice in their call for the countries of the world to change their ways. We want them to stop poisoning the planet, stop killing all the animals and plants and stop destroying all the habitat. We have been working with the United Nations and other international organizations to achieve the level of recognition the Indigenous Peoples of the world deserve.
We have reached out and been a part of many efforts designed to see solutions to climate change. I served on the Governor’s Carbon Emissions Task Force all summer long as we developed a gas tax plan for the state, which is now being considered in the legislature.
Virtually every tribe in the state is involved at some level in protecting, enhancing or restoring habitat. Quinault has been for many years. Those efforts are constantly innovative in their approach – whether our scientists are developing new ways to place trees in the river to regain natural hydraulics in the system or devising new ways to place gravel for spawning habitat. We invest in our science and in our river, lake and marine restoration and protection programs because it supports our future, it is true to our heritage and because it’s the right thing to do.
(Sharp then shared information about the Swinomish Tribe’s Climate Change Initiative, which can be viewed at here.)
What will ATNI do with the information that was presented at the climate change summit?
ATNI will work with a group of tribal representatives from Pacific Northwest Tribes and Inter-Tribal organizations, in collaboration with federal, state and local governments, to prepare summary recommendations on the following by the next ATNI convention in Warm Springs, Oregon on May 18-21:
One, begin to identify Pacific Northwest Tribal needs for climate change and organize tribes regionally to support increased funding, technical support, and capacity to address those needs.
Two, identify strategies to promote and protect tribal sovereignty and tribal resources.
Three, prepare a strategy to engage Pacific Northwest Tribes on developing a policy framework for a “Pacific Northwest Tribal Action Plan on Climate Change, Energy, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” similar to California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia’s “Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate Change, Energy, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”
Four, coordinate Pacific Northwest Tribes’ actions on climate change into a cohesive and effective strategy in order to inform regional, national, and international policy.
Five, adopt a resolution at ATNI’s May 2015 convention to bring climate change issues, policies, and strategies to the National Congress of American Indians national convention.
In addition to the outcomes of this summit, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians support the findings of the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience established by Executive Order 136531.
(Sharp then reviewed those recommendations, which can be read at here.)
How are tribal nations seeing the effects of climate change, perhaps in ways that people outside of Indian country are not seeing them?
Climate change is expected to significantly alter the ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest, and tribes and Native communities are among the most climate-sensitive groups within this geographic area.
Models predict warmer temperatures, more precipitation as rainfall, and decreased snowfall over the next 50 years which will directly affect the abundance of culturally significant foods, such as salmon, deer, root plants, and berries. These foods are important for ceremonies and subsistence, and access to traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering sites is guaranteed by treaty, constitution, or other agreements with the federal government. Increasing the climate resilience of tribal governments and Native communities is critical to ensuring access to resources protected by right and vitally important to the cultural existence and economic vitality of these communities.
Tribes must proactively begin to address these impacts, assess their vulnerability, and develop adaptation strategies. A few Northwest tribes are developing their internal technical, legal, and policy capacity to comprehensively address climate change impacts – however, much more work is needed. Although many tribes have been involved [in] habitat and climate change-related efforts, less than 5 percent of tribal governments – 25 [federally recognized] tribes out of 566 – nationwide have developed climate change vulnerability assessments or adaptation plans.
What action does ATNI want to see taken in order to see some positive impacts immediately?
Funding of Northwest tribes is critical. The principal funding source for Tribal Climate Change is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In fiscal year 2013, the BIA had only copy million allocated to tribal governments nationwide. In fiscal year 2014, there was to be copy0 million appropriated for Tribal Climate Change programs, however those funds have either been re-appropriated within the Department of the Interior or have not yet reached tribal governments. The ATNI-member tribes are seeking an increase of $50 million for the BIA Climate Change Program for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.
Support is needed for tribes to prepare for the unique impacts they face as a result of climate change. The federal government must fully incorporate its government-to-government relationship with tribes and Alaska Native communities into existing programs and activities that relate to climate change by enhancing self-governance capacity, promoting engagement of state and local governments with tribal communities, and recognizing the role of traditional ecological knowledge in understanding the changing climate.
The Pacific Northwest faces a higher risk of economic harm from ocean acidification than other parts of the country, according to a new study released Monday.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found a “potent combination” of risk factors along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The region has cold ocean water that absorbs carbon dioxide more readily than warmer water, and it has upwelling ocean currents that bring corrosive water to the surface.
Meanwhile, the Northwest also has a well-developed shellfish industry that produces more than $100 million a year in sales and supports thousands of jobs. Shellfish hatcheries in northern Oregon supply oyster larvae to the entire region’s aquaculture industry.
George Waldbusser, an ocean science professor at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, said it was the first time scientists analyzed social vulnerability as well as the natural hazards of ocean acidification.
“The major finding is that different parts of the country are vulnerable for different reasons,” he said. “In some parts of the country, the social vulnerability is quite high whereas the actual CO2 effect on the waters was a bit lower.”
Waldbusser said while ocean upwelling does create a “hot spot” for acidification in the Northwest, the region also has a lot of resources within universities and marine labs devoted to mitigating the negative impacts on the shellfish industry.
“We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification,” he said. “Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem.”
Study co-author Julie Ekstrom at the University of California-Davis said the risks to the Northwest shellfish industry are already fairly well known.
“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” she said.
A major oyster die-off in Oregon from 2006 to 2008 called attention to the problems acidic water can cause for developing shellfish, who depend on calcium carbonate to build their shells. Ocean acidification reduces carbonate in the water, making it harder for shellfish and corals to survive.