Climate change presents both challenges and opportunities for the Navajo Nation, and a new report from the University of Colorado at Boulder outlines what some of those are.
Many tribes are seeing direct results of climate change, or are preparing for its projected effect on their communities.
But the Navajo Nation's 27,000 square miles of varied terrain and climate that is home to 170,000 people faces multiple issues and challenges. The past year has brought drought, ice and flooding.
“It’s not only that the Navajo Nation is facing serious climate challenges,” said report lead author Julie Nania with the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the university, in a statement. “It’s also that in some cases, they may be vulnerable to climate-related impacts, for example, because many people run livestock. On the other hand, they may be particularly well-poised to take leadership on adaptation planning, because they have the sovereign authority to address some of these issues very effectively.”
The Navajo Nation has been gripped by drought since 1994, but it is not the worst drought to have hit the Southwest over the past 2,000 years, the report said. Working with resource managers on the Nation, the report’s authors crafted a comprehensive plan to help the Navajo both identify the ways that climate change is affecting their land and lives, and to help them adapt.
Among the climate challenges facing the Navajo Nation, the report said, are a growing season that’s 17 days longer than in the 20th century, streams that flow intermittently instead of year-round as they did in the past, and a projected increase in sand dunes that envelop homes and bury crop and ranchlands. In addition to mitigating the effect of these events, the report aims to get big-picture planning in place for its own sake, said Karen Cozzetto the report’s co-lead author and a researcher with the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences Western Water Assessment at CU Boulder.
“Climate adaptation planning is an opportunity not only to prepare for climate change, but also to think bigger about what kind of communities we want to live in, and what kind of world we want to leave for our children,” she said in the university’s statement.
The full report, “Considerations for Climate Change and Variability Adaptation on the Navajo Nation,” is available for download online.