As a fishery biologist, I have worked on Columbia River salmon restoration for over 30 years. As an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, I grew up on the Reservation hunting elk and deer, and fishing for salmon.
My work has involved studying changes to our river system. The impact of climate change became apparent almost 20 years ago as our Tribes studied the flow of water in the river at different times. Since then, our Tribes have worked extensively to document the impact of climate change on our salmon and Oregon rivers due to reduced snowpack and increased drought. For many of you reading this, you know summer wildfires fill our skies for weeks with smoke — affecting our air, our children, our elders. It is projected the intensity and magnitude of wildfires in the West will increase due to climate change. We are seeing it now.
Native Americans and rural communities in Oregon are affected by climate impacts on a daily basis. The salmon run sometimes arrives late — or not at all. The migration patterns of birds and elk, which we have hunted for generations, are changing. The native roots in the foothills and mountains that we have relied on for food arrive earlier and for a much shorter period of time. Last year the huckleberries were few, arrived early, and the window of time they were available decreased from three months to two and a half weeks. These native foods have great cultural and ceremonial significance, and to lose them due to climate change means losing part of who we are.
We’re working on adaptation strategies, but many tribes have also begun to focus on how to prevent and mitigate climate impacts by reducing carbon pollution, increasing the use of wind and solar energy, and developing innovative projects like at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, which is so energy efficient it produces nearly as much energy as it uses.
The Clean Energy Jobs bill, a policy I’m advocating that the legislature pass in 2018, is important to Tribes and rural communities like Pendleton, because it will reduce climate pollution by making large emitters pay for what they pollute, and use the proceeds to invest in clean energy solutions. Investments will be prioritized to help Native American communities and other low income, rural and communities of color that are hardest hit by the impacts of climate change and air pollution.
The Clean Energy Jobs bill will also help tribes protect the forest. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, and companies can “offset” some of their contributions to global warming by paying to protect the trees. The Warm Springs Tribe in central Oregon just completed a 20,000-acre forest land project on the east side of Mt. Jefferson. This project will help mitigate carbon emissions for the next 100 years while bring millions in revenues to be reinvested the reservation’s rural economy. But this project is being developed under California’s cap and trade program. With Clean Energy Jobs, tribes could participate in the offset program, right here in Oregon benefiting the Tribe and all Oregonians.
Most Tribes in Oregon are developing climate mitigation plans, and the reinvestment resources from Clean Energy Jobs would create an exciting opportunity for Tribes to implement those plans. These plans are being developed with our local city, county and state partners. We could invest in expanding renewable energy like wind and solar and in land preservation, which creates jobs and protects our culture, food and watershed.
Our lives and our way of life are interconnected with the climate. It’s time to transition Oregon from dirty to clean energy while creating jobs and business opportunities. Find out how you can help at RenewOregon.org. When the legislature convenes in February, they should pass the Clean Energy Jobs bill.
Don Sampson is the former chairman and executive director of the Umatilla Tribe. He currently serves as the climate change project director for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a consortium of 61 Tribes in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and California.