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Natasha Brennan
McClatchy Northwest
nbrennan@mcclatchy.com

The Nooksack Indian Tribe has contracted to study the impacts of climate change, timber harvests, temperature change and sediment loading on stream temperature, mass wasting (or slope movement), summer flows and winter glacial retention since 2010 and has created adaptation plans for fish, fish habitats, wildlife, Indigenous foods, water supply and water quality.

The tribe and Whatcom County environmental leaders met via Zoom on Oct. 14, to discuss the Tribe’s Climate Adaption Plan. The group highlighted key actions to mitigate climate change and ways the community can help to an audience of over 70 community members.

“We support changes that help protect the environment and we support changes that will not effect our treaty rights,” said Ross Cline Jr., a Nooksack tribal citizen and planning manager for the tribe’s Economic Development and Planning Department. “Protecting the climate is more than just a smaller carbon footprint, it is an action. It is a gift that we can give our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren for generations to come.”

Ross Cline Sr., chairman of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, said he hoped to learn more about the impacts of climate change on the Nooksack River as he brought attention to the tribe’s call for a formal judgment of its water rights earlier this year.

Oliver Grah, water resources program manager for the Nooksack Indian Tribe’s Natural and Cultural Resource Department, shared the background on the tribe’s plan. He described the plan as holistic and comprehensive, addressing legacy impacts — or the impacts on the environment for future generations — treaty resources, endangered species, recovery and compliance with the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.​

One of the focuses of the tribe’s research was the Sholes Glacier monitoring project, which has observed the glacier located on the northeast slopes of Mt. Baker since 2012. The project — led by the tribe in conjunction with Mauri Pelto, director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project — found significant thinning and a 400-foot recession of the glacier that supplies water to the Nooksack River watershed.

Grah discussed the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research Development’s South Fork Nooksack River Climate Change Pilot Research Project, which relied on the Tribe’s Natural and Cultural Resource Department to do the analysis and authors a 2016 report focused on the impacts of climate change on fish, vulnerability and resilience planning.

It was the first EPA publication to have tribal staff as senior authors, Grah said.

The presentation continued with a series of projects the Tribe has been a founding member in funding and leading to offset the effects of climate change: The Stewart Mountain Community Forest Initiative — a collaborative effort to adopt approximately 6,000 acres of forestland into local ownership to be managed and benefited by the community; and the Black Slough Restoration Project — which aims to restore hydrological function to seven parcels of land on the upper Black Slough watershed.

Harriet Morgan from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group led the discussion on the Tribe’s climate change adaption implementation plan, which the group developed collaboratively with the Nooksack Indian Tribe’s Natural and Cultural Resource Department to address climate change and planning for priority species and habitats.

She noted the recent record-breaking heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest this summer and that July 2021 was officially Earth’s hottest month.

People gather at the Sandy River Delta, in Ore., to cool off during the start of what should be a record-setting heat wave on June 25, 2021. The Pacific Northwest sweltered Friday as a historic heat wave hit Washington and Oregon, with temperatures in many areas expected to top out 25 to 30 degrees above normal in the coming days. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

“We see the consequences of this warming unfolding around us every day in our communities as well as in the news,” Morgan said. “It’s not just this distant problem in the future where we can just kick the can down the road and deal with it later. It’s here now.”

​Morgan’s group localizes global climate research data and has found Washington is severely impacted by declining snowpacks, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, warming coastal waters and acidifying seas that are in part due to human-caused warming.

Whatcom County in particular has seen the annual average temperature continually increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895 and projections estimate temperature increases throughout western Washington, Morgan said.

“It’s truly exciting to be working with the Nooksack Tribe who is truly leading the field of climate adaptation not only in the Northwest, but across the nation,” Morgan said.

For more information on the Nooksack Tribe’s Climate Adaptation Plan, projects and research, go to bit.ly/3vg61wM.

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Natasha Brennan covers Indigenous Affairs for Northwest McClatchy Newspapers. She’s a member of the Report for America corps.