Tribal conference considers climate change impacts

John Morris of the Douglas Indian Association speaks during a workshop at the 2016 Southeast Environmental Conference in Ketchikan. This year's conference is Sept. 5-8 in Wrangell. (Photo courtesy Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

John Morris of the Douglas Indian Association speaks during a workshop at the 2016 Southeast Environmental Conference in Ketchikan. This year’s conference is Sept. 5-8 in Wrangell. (Photo courtesy Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

A group of Southeast Native organizations is planning for the impacts of climate change.

Representatives of the region’s tribal governments will discuss global warming and other topics at their annual environmental conference Sept. 5-8 in Wrangell.

Conference organizer Raymond Paddock is environmental coordinator for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

He said the work starts with identifying tribal resources that have been or will be affected by warming temperatures.

“That looks like cedar, berries and other things that tribes use in the forest,” he said. “The other one being fish and how that’s affecting streams. Another one being ocean acidification and we also wrote harmful algal blooms in there as well.”

Anthony Christiansen, standing, right, speaks during the 2016 Southeast Environmental Conference in Ketchikan. (Photo courtesy Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

Member tribes already are working together to monitor those blooms.

Toxins from the algae accumulate when ingested by clams and crabs. Consumption by people or animals can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning.

But Paddock said the tribes want to do more than list climate change’s problems.

“We hope after we could get this plan developed, we want to go after a mitigation plan. We don’t know what that looks like just yet,” he said. “But as we’re moving forward, I think that’s our next logical step.”

Paddock said money is tight.

Tribal representatives are taking up a new effort that fits their goals and could bring in more funding.

Six tribes have come together to form the Southeast Alaska Tribal Conservation District.

Paddock expects more to join, under a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Paddock said one possibility ties into regional food security efforts.

“We can create greenhouses where we can grow vegetables and hopefully sell to our local grocery stores, so we get fresh vegetables going,” he said. “The funding opportunity is there to make this a continuing project.”

Paddock expects at least 50 to 60 people to attend the tribal environmental conference.

The event has been held for a number of years, rotating among Southeast communities.

“We wanted to put together these conferences to address these environmental issues and see how we can work together to pool our resources and partner,” he said.

This event is at Wrangell’s Nolan Center, with a water-quality-sampling field trip up the Stikine River, and it’s sponsored by Tlingit and Haida and the Wrangell Cooperative Association.

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