Climate Disruptions Hitting More and More Tribal Nations
Native Americans have long had a close relationship with their lands and waters—sacred places and resources that define their lives. The disruptions wrought by a warming climate are forcing abrupt cultural changes on peoples with a long reliance on a once stable ecosystem.
Among the special issues affecting tribes, the 2013 Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwestern United States (SWCA) cited “cultural and religious impacts, impacts to sustainable livelihoods, population emigration, and threats to the feasibility of living conditions.”
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The Hoh, Quinault, Quileute and Makah nations inhabit low-lying land along the west coast of Washington State, and face similar threats as rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate disruptions endanger their villages.
''The area is relatively vulnerable,'' Patty Glick, senior global warming specialist and author of a 2007 National Wildlife Federation report, ''Sea Level Rise and Coastal Habitats in the Pacific Northwest,'' told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2008. Higher wave action, wave force and destructive storm surges will increase in the coming decade, Glick said, and destructive storms such as the hurricanes will become more frequent.
The Hoh road to the beach has washed out, and the ocean has destroyed the homes that once lined their beach. In Quinault, a passing storm tossed gigantic logs onto the school grounds. These events intensified both tribes’ agenda to get higher ground returned from the Olympic National Park beyond their tiny reservation boundaries.
The Makah and the Quinault nations have large reservations, but their seaside villages are at risk, as evidenced by the recent state of emergency at Quinault headquarters in Taholah, which faced an increasingly dangerous situation with sea level rise and intensified storms, which breached a sea wall causing serious damage.
According to Climate Central, which uses data from NOAA and the USGS, there is a greater than one in six chance that sea level rise, plus storm surge, plus tides, will raise sea levels by more than one foot before 2020 along the coastline and in the Puget Sound region, where another eight tribes are situated. The Shoalwater Bay sits nearly out to sea in southwest Washington.
Rising sea levels will affect Washington's shoreline habitat for vegetation, animals, birds and fish, according to Glick’s report. Marshes, swamps and tidal flats will be significantly affected, and salmon and shellfish habitat are expected to be significantly affected, Glick reported.
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