Climate Change is Damaging Treaty Rights
by Lorraine Loomis
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.
Lorraine Loomis is chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, www.nwifc.org.