Climate change poses a serious and imminent threat to forest health across Washington State putting the Evergreen State at high risk for significant forest damage. Expansive forests that cover over half of the state not only contribute to its nickname but also play a significant role in the state economy. Forest products are the third largest manufacturing sector in Washington and forestry supports local communities statewide by supplying over 101,000 jobs and $28 billion in 20171

The impacts of climate change on Washington state forestry pose a great threat to the ecology of the state and as an extension, many plant, animal, and human communities. The eastern half of Washington is known historically to be of much higher drought risk and suffer from more wildfires and insect damage than the western half (although climate change impacts and rising temperatures across the state are projected to increase risk in the Western half of the state in years to come). Eastern Washington is also home to four large Indian reservations. To further explore the impacts of climate change on tribal communities I chose to examine the forest health of the Colville Indian Reservation in eastern Washington.

As climate changes causes drought conditions to worsen, fire regimes to shift, and insect infiltration to intensify, community resilience is of utmost importance. Tribal communities in Washington suffer from greater climate vulnerability than urban communities due to their close connection to and reliance on natural resources. Forest disturbances in particular threaten tribal traditional foods, plants, and wildlife of significant economic, medicinal, cultural, and community health importance 2. For example, deer and elk are two culturally important species whose habitats have been impacted by decreasing forest health. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is also at risk as climate change creates new challenges for tribes to adapt to 3. When TEK is used in conjunction with Western science a robust, multi-scale strategy for climate change adaptation results 4

The Colville Reservation

The Colville reservation is made up a confederation of twelve tribes of 9,520 members across 1.4 million acres making it the second most populated reservation and the largest reservation in the state. The Colville reservation is not unique only for its size, but for its expansive forest. Over 65% of the reservation, 922,240 acres, are forested.

Colville Reservation. Photo Credit: Mark Pouley via FLICKR

Colville Reservation. Photo Credit: Mark Pouley via FLICKR

Forestry and wood products have been the traditional source of revenue for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the backbone of the CCT economy. Increased climate induced disturbances such as wildfires and beetle outbreaks threaten tribal livelihoods as forests serve as the lifeblood of economic activity. In addition to economic impacts, climate change also threatens the health and safety of tribal communities on the Colville Reservation particularly through wildfire damage and increased air pollution. 5

Colville Reservation in Eastern Washington