Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Climate change rally highlights problems facing the reservation

By Lailani Upham

Whisper Camel Means, CSKT Wildlife Biologist details the CSKT strategic plan implemented through a tribal resolution in 2012. (B.L. Azure photo)Whisper Camel Means, CSKT Wildlife Biologist details the CSKT strategic plan implemented through a tribal resolution in 2012. (B.L. Azure photo)

PABLO — Climate change rallies and events were happening in 13 communities from Columbia Falls to Lame Deer for the first time this past Saturday, titled, “Montanans for Climate Solutions.”

An event held at the Late Louie Caye building on the Salish Kootenai College campus was in the string of events.

Nearly 60 people were in attendance.

A free lunch with acoustic music off to the side kicked off the event.

Three local speakers addressed the impacts of climate change on the region’s wildlife, habitats, and agricultural systems.

Dr. Kirwin Werner, Adjunct Faculty Professor at SKC presented material titled, “An Ecologist’s View of Global Climate Change”; Whisper Camel-Means, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Wildlife Biologist did a quick overview of the 2013 CSKT Climate Change Strategic Plan; and Karl Sutton, Lake County Community Development Corporation Special Projects Coordinator shared a video titled, “Community Supported Agriculture - A Response.”

The idea for the rallies is to encourage the Montana public officials to support proactive solutions to the climate change crisis.

The communities besides Pablo, included: Bigfork, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Great Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Kalispell, Lame Deer, Missoula, Red Lodge, and Whitefish.

James Rogers, SKC Geography and Science Education Adjunct Faculty professor, spurs the crowd to understand climate change effects by introducing speakers for the event. (B.L. Azure photo) James Rogers, SKC Geography and Science Education Adjunct Faculty professor, spurs the crowd to understand climate change effects by introducing speakers for the event. (B.L. Azure photo)

The rallies across the state have been organized and attended by a broad coalition of 80 health, community, human rights, wildlife, sportsmen, conservation, Native American, recreation and faith-based organizations and businesses that acknowledge the dangerous results of unchecked climate change and are urging state officials to support practical and common sense solutions.

In a press release dated last week, Deputy Mayor, Carson Taylor of Bozeman stated, “The challenge of climate change should be an important priority for every community. Each community, and each person, must act promptly and responsibly to reduce our carbon footprint. Governing organizations should act now to model good behavior for our citizens and to pressure large carbon producers to modify their practices and reduce their carbon emissions.”

First speaker Dr. Werner, said when he was first asked to present he thought what could he share that someone else already had not.

He said as the first planning group got together he was concerned about the emphasis being “human solutions to human problems.”

Werner told the crowd, “Global Climate Change isn’t just about humans; it’s affecting everything – flowers, trees, fish, song birds, frogs, and bacteria - and I thought to myself who is speaking for them? Don’t they deserve solutions?”

Thus, his topic on an “ecologists’ look at global climate change.”

He started out defining an ecosystem.

“A lot of people don’t understand that term,” he stated.

An ecosystem is a scientific term that describes all the living or biotic components: plants, animals, fungi, bacteria; and non-living or abiotic components: the air, land, and water in a geographic area.

Plants are designated as producers, animals as consumers, and fungi and bacteria as decomposers based on their place in the food chain.

Dr. Kirwin Werner, SKC adjunct professor, gives a scientific definition on the ecological system of Flathead Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)Dr. Kirwin Werner, SKC adjunct professor, gives a scientific definition on the ecological system of Flathead Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)

He said the concept then defines two types of interactions between biotic and abiotic components: nutrient cycling, which is really elements cycling, for example; oxygen, iron, copper. The other is energy flow for example energy bound up in edible compounds such as sugars, fats etc.

“Both interactions, nutrient cycling and energy flows, move via the food chain from producer to consumer, broken down by the decomposers and back into the abiotic portion of the system,” he explained.

Werner said, “If you know that, you know more than 85 percent of the economists and 95 percent of politicians who love to talk about sustainable ecosystems but don’t have the faintest idea what they are talking about.”

Werner heightened the thought process by asking, “So how did we get to todays populations that are, in many respects, so removed physically, psychologically and spiritually from the natural ecosystems we depend on?”

His answer? Emphasized two reasons stating that when population grew and technology grew humans physically removed themselves from places where food is produced and waste is decomposed and where humans then interact with other animal consumers.

“This has had a profound effect on our understanding and experiencing ecosystem dynamics. ‘Out of sight – out of mind.’”

He said folks may care about the ecosystem, but what goes on “out there” is not on people’s radar as long as one can get their food at the grocery store and the sewer, water, and electrical systems are working.

“How many of us were aware that the Northern Leopard Frog went extinct on the Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1980’s at the time it was happening? When I first looked into this in the 1990’s, the only people who had an inkling of such were tribal elders who as kids caught leopard frogs along the streams and now no longer saw them. They remembered Leopard Frogs because of their striking color pattern and great hopping ability,” he shared.

Werner went on to say, “More to the point, how many of us are aware today of how much carbon dioxide levels have increased and perhaps oxygen levels decreased in the Mission Valley in the last 50 years ago? There are thousands more people in the valley, forests have been cut down, irrigation canals and roads are everywhere, tons of fertilizers and insecticides have been applied to fields, some streams are polluted. Do we even think about what is going on with ecosystem dynamics? Which brings me to the next point: No matter where one lives, - a farm outside Charlo, or a high rise in New York City, no matter how much technology we surround ourselves with, we will always be a part of food chains in an ecosystem. That is inherent to life on planet earth.”

Karl Sutton, Special Projects Coordinator for the Lake County Community Development Corporation explains on the shared responsibility of the community to foster and embrace the concept of stewardship of social, economic and natural environments through agricultural living. (B.L. Azure photo) Karl Sutton, Special Projects Coordinator for the Lake County Community Development Corporation explains on the shared responsibility of the community to foster and embrace the concept of stewardship of social, economic and natural environments through agricultural living. (B.L. Azure photo)

Camel-Means presentation focused a plan the Tribes have been working on for a couple years spearheaded by Mike Durglo, CSKT Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division manager.

Camel-Means said she has been studying it from “an emergency prepared” standpoint. What will happen when things shut down and people need help was the question she offered as perspective.

In November 2012 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes signed RES. 13-52 to “develop a Climate Change Strategic Plan stating that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change driven in part by the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, the effects of which may significantly affect environment, natural resources, and infrastructure on which the Tribes have traditionally relied on.”

In a Char-Koosta article dated November 2013, the CSKT Strategic Plan is the first of its kind in Indian Country; the guide establishes an early foundation for an ongoing management procedure to address the effects of climate change on the Flathead Reservation.

Durglo stated then, “We’re looking at strategies to create plans for adaptation and mitigation. A warming climate will change our entire way of life and we need to take a serious look at how we will manage these conditions.”

The plan is funded by the Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent and the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative. It notes potential environmental, social, and cultural impacts the Flathead Reservation will face due to a warming climate including snowpack, wildfire, air quality, and fish and wildlife. The plan also includes firsthand accounts of climate change from the perspectives of Salish and Kootenai elders.

“We received a lot of information from the elders on climate change locally, and we’ll be able to use that information to address different issues,” Durglo added.

For more information on the Montanans for Climate Solutions events and specific community locations go to http://meic.org/events/climate.

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