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Living Landscapes

Culture, Climate Science & Education

Before You Start, Select Your Region

Click a region on the map below to select a region:

See the Tribes in Each Region:

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Alaska and Arctic

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of Alaskan natives to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species will make it more difficult for native people to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations.

Alaska is home to 40% (229 of 566) of the federally recognized tribes in the United States, and has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation, bringing widespread impacts. Sea ice is rapidly receding and glaciers are shrinking. Thawing permafrost is leading to more wildfire, and affecting infrastructure and wildlife habitat. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification will alter valuable marine fisheries. Water availability, quality, and quantity are threatened by the consequences of permafrost thaw, which has damaged community water infrastructure, as well as by the northward extension of diseases such as those caused by the Giardia parasite.

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Southeast

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species will make it more difficult for tribes to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations. Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to the region’s economy and environment. Extreme heat will affect health, energy, agriculture, and more. Decreased water availability will have economic and environmental impacts.

For decades, the Isle de Jean Charles off the coast of Louisiana served as a refuge for the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. Today, their island is vanishing into the sea, leaving residents stranded without a piece of dry land to stand on. Over the last fifty years, the island has lost all but a sliver of its landmass due to a variety of human activities, all likely exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

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Northeast

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species will make it more difficult for tribes to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations. Heat waves, coastal flooding, and river flooding will pose a growing challenge to the region’s environmental, social, and economic systems. This will increase the vulnerability of the region’s tribal residents. Ocean pH is dropping due to increased uptake of carbon dioxide; without a worldwide reversal in carbon output into the atmosphere, the acidity level will increase and that will adversely affect ocean plants and animals that tribes rely on. The potential impacts on lobsters and shellfish-resources remains unclear. New England lobster harvesters have seen a rise in a shell wasting disease of unknown origin; the disease has rendered many lobsters unmarketable. Water temperature in the Atlantic off Maine and in rivers are expected to rise, impacting salmonids such as brook trout and salmon. Storms are intensifying, and the resulting storm-based erosion impacts rivers and streams as well as the creatures that rely on them.

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Southwest

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species will make it more difficult for tribes to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations.

The Southwest’s 182 federally recognized tribes and communities in its U.S.-Mexico border region share particularly high vulnerabilities to climate changes such as high temperatures, drought, and severe storms. Changes in long-term average temperature, precipitation, and declining snowpack have altered the physical and hydrologic environment on the Colorado Plateau, making the Navajo Nation more susceptible to drought impacts. Southwest tribes have observed damage to agriculture and livestock, the loss of springs and medicinal and culturally important plants and animals, and impacts on drinking water supplies.

Increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding are additional concerns.

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Plains

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species will make it more difficult for tribes to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations. Other impacts include:

  • Less snow cover in winter, resulting in less surface water from runoff during the remainder of the year. This is of concern west of the Missouri River, where most of the reservation population lives and most people use surface water.
  • Ecosystems and wildlife used for subsistence living may become more stressed, and wildlife ranges may move north.
  • Some plants, including plants used for ceremonial purposes, may be so vulnerable changes in the climate that disappear in certain areas.
  • Traditional food crops, such as berries and timpsila, may no longer be available in adequate quantities on native-held lands.
  • Temperature and water impacts will change which crops can be grown in an area.
  • Increasing heat in the summer might increase the number of severe storms. In addition to general destruction, these storms will throw off the timing of crop and forage production. Communities with fewer resources such as Oglala Lakota communities may be less able to recover from the impacts of the severe storms. In the winter, more precipitation will fall as rain and less as snow.
  • There may be more heat-related deaths. Older members of the tribal population are more susceptible to heat and will be disproportionately affected. Inadequately insulated buildings, which make up most housing on reservations, will provide little protection from the heat. Important ceremonial practices such as the Sundance may be adversely affected by temperature extremes.

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Plateau

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species like salmon will make it more difficult for tribes to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations. Salmon migrate up streams in the western portions of this region, and rising temperatures impact every stage of the salmon lifecycle. Salmon need cold, clear and clean water to survive. In winter, more rain and earlier snowmelt increase the risk of floods that can destroy salmon spawning grounds. In summer, low flows reduce the quantity and quality of salmon habitat. Warmer water temperatures physically stress the fish and block migration routes. Climate change could also shift the ranges of roots and berries. Scientists project that air temperatures in the Pacific Northwest will increase 3°F by the 2040s, and even relatively small increases in temperature can alter conditions that sustain life. With temperatures changing too quickly for native plants to adapt, their range may shift north or to higher elevations for cooler temperatures. Some may become extinct. Increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.

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Northwest Coast

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Climate change threatens the treaty-protected rights of tribes to hunt, fish, and harvest traditional resources because it threatens wildlife, fish, and food and medicinal plants. The loss of culturally important species like salmon will make it more difficult for tribes to practice their traditions and pass knowledge about those traditions to their children future generations.

Tribal treaty rights are also being affected by the reduction of rainfall and snowmelt in the mountains, melting glaciers, rising temperatures, and shifts in ocean currents.

Changes in the timing of streamflow are reducing water supplies. Sea level rise, erosion, inundation, risks to infrastructure, and increasing ocean acidity pose major threats as well. In this region, many reservations are located on the coast or near the fishing grounds at the mouths of rivers, which makes them vulnerable to rises in
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sea level and coastal erosion. Higher seas will intensify storm damage, coastal flooding, and the risk of saltwater contaminating freshwater.

In forests, increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are causing widespread tree die-offs.

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