Tribal Climate Science Liaison
With 30 tribes in his purview, spanning the East Coast and Gulf Coast, from Maine to Florida to Texas, Casey Thornbrugh is the new tribal climate science liaison for the Northeast Climate Science Center (NECSC) hosted by UMass Amherst.
The NECSC belongs to a federal network of eight centers covering different climate regions, funded by the Department of the Interior, created to provide scientific information about, and tools and techniques to adapt to, climate change.
“Indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, due to the place-based nature of tribal nations,” explains Thornbrugh, who is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. “Any environmental damage to the land or waterways or relocation of indigenous communities in the face of climate impacts, such as sea-level rise and flooding, is quite traumatic, because these are relationships to place that are thousands of years old.”
Coastal nations, for example, can be particularly affected by salt water inundation that can harm culturally important crops like sweetgrass and red juniper. There is also the brutal hit of changing climate patterns: in Maine, moose ticks once killed off by spring snow pack are now returning for multiple generations, resulting in infestations that are severely weakening the immunity of native moose—a species particularly important to tribes in the Northeast.
Thornbrugh’s role promotes a beneficial two-way communication: “We have climate information, but the tribal nations have local knowledge, and that’s something you also need to get a whole picture of what’s going on.”