RESTON, VA--North American Indian tribes, who have lived close to the land for generations, are disproportionately affected by climate change, according to a study released by the National Wildlife Federation.
“Extreme weather events can be devastating for tribes, many of whom already suffer from lack of resources,” said Amanda Staudt, a scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, during a conference call on the report.
Staudt noted that there have been eight weather and climate disasters in the first half of 2011, including flooding of the Missouri River in May, which left much of the Crow nation under water, and June wildfires in Arizona that consumed 21,000 acres belonging to the White Mountain Apache tribe.
Staudt warned that these kinds of events - which have cost some $32 billion in the first seven months of the year in North America - will become increasingly frequent in the years ahead and pose particular challenges to Indian tribes.
“Power disruptions from storms, long dry spells and heavy floods can be difficult to recover from, especially for people who live close to the land and have limited economic resources,” said Garrit Voggesser, senior manager of the National Wildlife Federation Tribal Lands Program.
Voggesser pointed out that while Native American tribes have coped for millennia with climate change - albeit not as acute and severe as currently experienced - tribal boundaries and treaties now limit their ability to move to escape severe effects of climate change.
As a result, North American tribes on the 326 reservations in the U.S. must focus on adapting to the extremes of climate change.
Specifically, tribes will have to face:
Extreme drought, which weaken trees’ ability to resist pests and curb erosion. North American tribes occupy some 18.6 million acres of forests.
Scarcity of water, particularly in the Western part of the country. Tribes also face unresolved water rights.
Flooding, caused by heavy rain, snow melt, melting sea ice and rising sea levels. Flooding and attendant erosion threatens more than 200 Native American villages in Alaska, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.
Snowstorms. Paralyzing blizzards threaten the upper Midwest and Northeast of the U.S., posing dangers to homes and infrastructure that tribes will be economically pressed to repair.
Threats to habitat: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns of significant loss of salmon and trout, food staple of some tribes, due to damage to habitat from climate change.