Native Americans may be highly vulnerable to climate change because they disproportionately depend on place-based natural resources and ecosystem services for food, water, medicine, spiritual needs, and cultural identity. Tribal land ownership is irregularly distributed across the Pacific Northwest and some recognized tribes do not have reservations. Many Native Americans use lands beyond reservation boundaries that are within treaty rights and ceded areas. Therefore, vast natural areas within the region are used to hunt, gather, and for cultural and spiritual needs. Climate change challenges tribal members access to and supply of these resources.
USDA Forest Service scientists John B. Kim and Becky Kerns worked with their colleague Michael Case (The Nature Conservancy) and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville and Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs to identify culturally important ecosystem services and relate them with biologically relevant vegetation projections from a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model. This yielded a generalizable approach for assessing climate change effects on tribally important ecosystem goods and services across the region.
They found that more than half of the78 tribally important species and resources analyzed may be vulnerable to climate change due to loss of potential habitat. They took a closer look at huckleberries (genus Vaccinium) and bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate), species particularly important to the tribes, and showed how this information can be applied to help inform resource management and adaptation planning.
Although the assessment is focused in the Pacific Northwest, the approach can be applied in other regions for which model data is available.