For Minnesota tribes, climate adaptation focuses on culturally significant species

Bruce Martineau poles his father Francis Martineau to the shore.
Native American tribes are focused on monitoring several vulnerable species, including wild rice, threatened by climate change.
Dan Kraker | MPR News 2017

People have practiced climate adaptation ever since they first inhabited the land we now call Minnesota.

Centuries ago, the Ojibwe adapted to the climate by moving with the seasons. In the spring, they set up camp in the woods to tap sugar maple trees. In summer, they hunted, fished and gathered within a 50-mile radius of their villages, and in the fall they camped next to wild rice beds for the rice harvest.

But climate change — specifically the rising temperatures and heavier precipitation Minnesota has and will continue to experience — poses new challenges for those original Minnesota inhabitants' descendants.

"It's a lot more complicated," said Tansey Moore, the 1854 Treaty Authority's climate change specialist, who has been working with the Bois Forte, Grand Portage and Fond du Lac bands to assess which culturally significant species are most vulnerable under climate change and how to adapt.

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"We're warming up, from a four- to five-degree increase in temperature, and we're also receiving a lot more precipitation," she said, adding that the changes have implications for everything from wild rice to birch to walleye and moose.

How to adapt to climate change while also preserving those culturally significant species will be one of the perspectives highlighted at the annual Minnesota Climate Adaptation Conference, taking place Wednesday at the University of Minnesota. Attendees will discuss the past and future of climate adaptation in Minnesota.

Other topics being discussed at the conference include designing stormwater infrastructure to handle heavier rains, addressing blue-green algae on lakes and managing forests to be more resilient to changing conditions.

Moore said climate change threatens to disrupt the hunting, fishing and gathering Minnesota's tribal members still participate in as they exercise their treaty rights, and that adds to the pressures development and pollution have put on those resources.

"The bands are kind of stuck to that boundary," she said, "not being able to move with those climate changes. It's really important that we start looking at and monitoring these focus species. Once those are no longer there, [people] no longer have those resources."

Efforts include phenology projects, such as monitoring the timing and conditions of ice on wild rice lakes.