In the fall of 2015 the Tulalip Board of Directors adopted a policy to create a strategy to increase our resiliency in the face of these changes by developing a climate adaptation plan. The plan is intended to maintain the health and well-being of Tulalip people and culture in spite of the adverse effects of climate change. This plan considers the risks to, and strategies for, protecting health, economy, natural and cultural resources as well as infrastructure.
A key assumption in thinking about and applying adaptation measures is that we adapt throughout our daily routines. This climate adaptation planning efforts is simply a more deliberate consideration of climate change in how and why we adapt.
In 2016 we convened a group of Tulalip staff from a variety of departments to act as a core team to develop this strategy. The Team then reached out to others in Tribal Government for broad input. The Team identified the many facets of tribal life that are affected by climate change. To efficiently develop and apply adaptation strategies we associated climate change threats to areas of tribal interest such as discrete geographic areas, government functions, specific natural resources, health and the economy.
Five geographic areas were defined based on the effect of climate on the land or water:
- the Reservation coast where sea level rise and increased storm frequency and intensity threatens homes, infrastructure and habitat;
- on-reservation forests where fire risk is rising and plant resources are threatened (food, medicine and craft materials);
- off-reservation forests where Tribal interests such as wildlife habitat, hydrology affecting salmon streams, plant resources are at risk from a changing environment;
- the Quil Ceda watershed, where changing storm patterns and continued development will likely result in more flood risk – the reservation is downstream on Quil Ceda Creek, so risk of flooding is greatest for us;
- the Snohomish River Estuary, where sea level rise will change habitat, raise groundwater on the reservation and possibly create a hazard at the Big Flats Super Fund Site.
This is a partial list of geographic areas that were identified as being impacted by climate change, and is not exhaustive.
Tribal Government departments carry out the functions of government by providing services to members, maintaining infrastructure and protecting tribal resources. Many of these functions are affected by climate change, so these departments have had to adapt. They include Public Works (road, fleet…), Administration (building maintenance and management), Natural and Cultural Resources (natural resource management and cultural resource rediscovery) and healthcare delivery services (multiple departments). We have set out to work with Tulalip Tribal practitioners in all of these areas to develop tailored plans for adjusting to the relevant effects of climate change.
There are areas where we don’t understand the nature of change enough to adapt. In those cases we need to research and observe so we can develop effective adaptation measures. The team has, so far, acquired funding and started three projects that will help us to better understand how to adapt to climate change.
- While we know that sea level is rising and that it will affect the erosion of our coast, we don’t fully understand how quickly the bluffs along our coast will erode, and therefore the time frame that our coastal resources are at risk. We have received funding from the federal government to study the effects of sea level rise combined with an increased intensity of storms. This will show us the risk that coastal properties face. It may also help us to understand how sea level rise will affect nearshore habitat, which is an important place for our shellfish fishery and a nursery for crab, salmon and forage fish.
- The Tulalip Hazard Mitigation Plan that guides our actions in the case of natural disasters was lacking information relating to climate change. We applied for and received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update our Hazard Mitigation Plan by evaluating the changes to expect in our forests as winters become wetter and summers become drier. Public Works Department staff have observed that understory growth in the forest is much more lush by spring, which creates a greater fire threat in summer when it dries out. Tulalip Public works staff have adapted by acquiring training and equipment to become fire first responders. We also want to be able to anticipate how first foods and medicines will be affected on the reservation.
- Forests off the reservation will be affected by climate change in the same way as on the reservation. So we wrote a grant proposal that was funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to evaluate how vegetation will change throughout the ceded lands. While on the reservation our primary focus is fire, off the reservation we will evaluate how changes will affect our treaty resources, such as wildlife, first foods and medicines, and more direct economic resources such as timber. We will reach out to other tribes in the area and other organizations that might have an interest.
One other project specifically directed at the effects of climate change is being planned. As mentioned above the Quil Ceda watershed will certainly suffer greater flooding. We intend to apply for grants to help us update our tribal hazard mitigation plan so that the effects of climate change are considered in flood forecasting and flood mitigation. As we learn more and if resources are available we will expand these investigations.
Other proposals will not address climate change as a primary purpose but will include it as one aspect. For example a recently developed grant proposal to address invasive species that affect tribal resources includes a section on how various climate scenarios may facilitate the invasion and expansion of harmful invasive species. Other projects will also include consideration of climate change as appropriate.
The reality of Tulalip climate adaptation is that we have been adjusting to climate change for a long time. All of our current work, whether in health care, building maintenance, economic development, emergency response or natural resource management, has required that we adjust to changes around us. The Board of Directors mandated plan is identifying climate adaptation that is already happening and looking into the future for adjustments we will need to protect our wellbeing in light of projected change.
Climate adaptation is itself an ongoing and adaptive process. It is not an effort that is separate from our day to day lives. It is an accounting of and adjusting to the environmental factors affecting us. It modifies our day to day activities, including lifeways, work and tribal governance. For example, we manage wildlife throughout our tribal territory. We are not likely to change our fundamental approach to management but climate adaptation planning will allow us to adjust our management decisions to account for anticipated changes attributable to climate change. This is the case throughout Tribal activities.