Impacts of climate variability and change on cultural resources

The NE CASC region includes many cultural resources that are increasingly vulnerable in a changing climate, including the traditional practices and heritage (i.e., Traditional Ecological Knowledge) of federally recognized tribes; sites within our vast National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and other federally managed and tribal lands (e.g., Independence Hall, PA); as well as social processes, aesthetic experiences, recreational opportunities, and other cultural (ecosystem) services that natural resources provide. Managing cultural services and lands under the impacts of climate change poses a grand challenge to managers who are entrusted to preserve a variety of resources for the education, enjoyment, and livelihood of future generations. For example, climate change in the northern regions of the NE CASC threaten a long-established ‘winter culture’ involving a suite of activities, often associated with public lands and the responsibility of resource managers, and essential to the economies and cultures of northern communities. Understanding how these changes will be manifest will help managers identify which aspects of winter culture will be most vulnerable, and how responses to these vulnerabilities will in turn affect natural resources. 

According to its mission, “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and the intrinsic values of the National Parks system”. In order to tackle the challenge of climate change, the NPS Climate Change Response Program has outlined a four-part strategy, including climate science, adaptation, mitigation, and communication. Many of the primary NPS science priorities are in line with the objectives of the NE CASC, and partnerships between NPS and the NE CASC will increase the effectiveness of responses to climate threats on cultural resources and lands throughout the region. 
Secretarial Orders such as No. 3289 have identified climate impacts on tribes, tribal lands, and cultural heritage, as a priority for the DOI. The NE CASC is responding to this call by collaborating with other federal agencies to engage tribes and evaluate options for adapting to climate change impacts. Tribal and indigenous communities have a tremendous interest in building capacity for resilience to the impacts of climate change on their lands and communities. These communities are also some of the most vulnerable to climate change because available land is confined to reservation boundaries and tribal communities often lack the financial resources needed to invest in adaptation measures (Berenfeld, 2008; Rinkevich et al. 2011). Nineteenth century treaties between tribes and the United States, upheld by the Federal Courts, also guarantees tribes access and use of many natural resources in off-reservation ceded territories beyond reservation boundaries. Climate change impacts to the continued availability of these and other resources (e.g., birch, maple, and ash trees; blueberries; moose; wolves) threaten the vitality of some tribal cultures. 
Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that is shared by tribal and indigenous communities may also contribute to a better understanding of climate change impacts on natural resources at finer spatial scales than are detected by some monitoring systems (e.g., weather stations), and provide natural and climate histories of local habitats that may not be documented elsewhere (Reidlinger and Berkes 2001; Nakashima et al. 2012). These sources of information and the knowledge of how native communities have responded to changing environmental conditions can inform adaptation strategies. It is important to note that TEK is culturally sensitive and sacred. Therefore knowledge exchange between tribes and scientists should always be informed and respectful of the history and purpose of TEK, the risks and benefits tribes face when sharing TEK (Williams and Hardison 2013), and observe the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as other relevant federal policies on tribal consultation (e.g., Executive Order 13175).
The NE CASC Consortium represents tribal interests primarily through the participation of the College of Menominee Nation. It is committed to working with the tribal community to build awareness, increase education, and develop research networks to improve the understanding of how climate change impacts tribes, TEK, and the natural resources they depend on while preserving and respecting their sacred and intellectual properties. The NE CASC is also developing a tribal consultation and engagement strategy that will reach out to tribal representatives, their natural resource councils and associations to address their interests, and work to develop climate change adaptation strategies for their necessary cultural and ecological resources. 
  • Partner with federally recognized tribes, municipalities, States, NGOs, and other entities to assess the breath of cultural resources in the Northeast region threatened by climate change, and to develop and recommend adaptation strategies. 

  • Collaborate with partners to communicate the impacts of climate change on trust resources on and off Indian reservations, and the potential impacts on tribal cultures, particularly in areas that may be effected by sea level rise, lake level changes in the Great Lakes, ephemeral freshwater habitats, and extreme events (e.g., flooding). 

  • Characterize the impacts of climate change on subsistence activities including hunting, fishing, forestry, and agriculture, and work with Tribal Nations and the public to identify adaptive and mitigative measures to sustain these cultural aspects of these activities. 

  • Develop methods, protocols, and policies to incorporate tribal knowledge into natural resource and climate change research to make tribal cooperation efforts with science more of a knowledge exchange. However, free, informed, and prior consent should be used for all research with tribes and be respectful of each tribe’s individual cultural heritage. 

  • Work with partners (e.g., NPS) that have cultural resource responsibilities and vested interests to identify priority cultural resource targets vulnerable to climate change (e.g., man-made structures, species, or other natural resources), and incorporate adaptation strategies into land management and planning.