612 Sharing Native Wisdom and Climate Data to Enhance Resilience of Water Resources and Traditional Agriculture on Reservation Lands

Tuesday, 14 January 2020
Hall B (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Maureen McCarthy, DRI, Reno, NV; and K. Bocinsky, C. Albano, and M. D. Dettinger

The Native Waters on Arid Lands (NWAL) Project is addressing the challenge of enhancing the sustainability of water resources and Native American agriculture through interactive sharing of place-based paleo-climate data, downscaled future climate projections, and native wisdom. Researchers from UNR, DRI, U. Arizona, Utah State University, Dine College, Navajo Technical University, Salish-Kootenai College are working collaboratively with Native American farmers, ranchers, and water and natural resource managers in the Southwest, Great Basin, and Northern Rockies to understand and communicate climate impacts on reservation lands and adaptation options for native communities. This paper will discuss research on the projected impacts of climate change on Native American reservation lands and how this information has been co-developed and shared with tribal students, leaders, and resource managers to develop a mutual understanding of the challenges and opportunities for managing water for agriculture on reservation lands.

It will discuss the role traditional practices have had in increasing the drought resiliency of food and ceremonial crops, and the economic risks and opportunities for current and future crop and livestock production. American Indian farmers and ranchers have been integrally connected to the land, water and natural resources for thousands of years – hunting, fishing, gathering plants, raising livestock, and producing crops. Close cultural ties to natural resources, geographic remoteness, and economic challenges have led some to characterize American Indian agriculturalists as some of the most vulnerable to climate change. Sustaining their agricultural practices for traditional ceremonies, food production, and economic trade is becoming more challenging due to the increasing scarcity of, and limited access to, water resources, rapid changes in ecosystem composition and health, and historic Indian land tenure policy arrangements. Climatic change exacerbates the situation by reducing the availability of water in rivers fed by spring runoff from snowpack in the mountains, increased water loss by plants, soils, and reservoirs due to increased temperatures, and changes the onset and duration of growing seasons for food and ceremonial crops. Urban expansion in the Southwest puts additional stresses on Native American communities due to increased demands for decreasing water supplies from rivers and underground aquifers.

Understanding pre-Western settlement climate trends and extreme events, including long periods of drought, provides and essential context for discussions about future climate projections with Native American communities. Downscaling the global climate models to each reservation has been invaluable to stimulating discussions with Native community members about climate resilience. Their insight into how their communities adapted to extreme climate events prior to Western settlement in the Western United States, along with traditional knowledge and experience of historical and current climates, provides a basis for discussion about what options are available to protect vital water supplies and traditional agricultural practices in the remaining decades of the 21stcentury. By way of example, the figure below illustrates the coupling of paleo-climate, historic, and future climate projection data to put the extreme drought of 2018 on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in context of the last 1000 years.

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