Extreme Weather in Indian Country

North American Indian Tribes are especially harmed by climate change, as more ecological shifts and more frequent, more extreme weather events occur. Because Tribes are heavily dependent on natural resources, severe weather events like droughts, floods, wildfires, and snowstorms make tribal communities particularly vulnerable and impact Native Americans more than they impact the general population.

In collaboration with the University of Colorado Law School, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, National Congress of American Indians, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, and Native American Rights Fund, the National Wildlife Federation Tribal Lands Program has produced the report Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes, and the Future for Indian Country.

The report details how climate change is adversely and disproportionately affecting Indian Tribes in North America, people who rely on a healthy environment to sustain their economic, cultural and spiritual lives.

The study describes how the increase in average temperature is leading to more severe weather events more often. For example:

  • Extreme droughts weaken trees’ ability to resist pests and to curb erosion and siltation. On the nation’s 326 reservations, there are approximately 18.6 million forested acres. Droughts also lower water levels and impair agricultural productivity.
  • Flooding from heavy rain, snowmelt, melting sea ice, and rising sea levels destroys homes, buildings, and infrastructure and can increase diseases and parasites. Two U.S. General Accountability Office studies found that over 200 native villages have been impacted by flooding and erosion and 31 villages should consider relocating because of imminent threats. Recovery costs can be insurmountable for Tribes.
  • Some areas like the upper Midwest and Northeast will see more record-breaking, intense snowstorms that can paralyze communities and damage homes and infrastructure.
  • Climate change is breaking down natural mechanisms that help wildlife and habitat survive weather variations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has projected significant loss of stream habitat for trout and salmon, for example.

The study asks Congress to increase funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ efforts to address conservation and climate adaptation, to provide equitable access to federal funds and to repeal Tribes’ exclusions from federal environmental programs. It also stresses the need for the federal government to enforce tribal rights to natural and cultural resources and for Tribes to include climate impacts in their planning efforts.

Read the Full Report: Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes, and the Future for Indian Country


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