Giving Compass’ Take:
• Faced with impending climate change, the Swinomish people worked with scientists and policymakers to prepare for the change that is coming to their coastal community. Using the best available scientific understanding of the likely impacts of climate and culturally appropriate responses, they created an action plan to address the threats of climate change.
• How can other communities use this collaborative model to prepare their area for climate change? How can philanthropists help communities create and execute their action plans?
In the fall of 2008 the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community started work on a landmark two-year Climate Change Initiative to study the impacts of climate change on the resources, assets, and community of the Swinomish Indian Reservation and to develop recommendations on actions to adapt to projected impacts.
The Tribe was assisted during the two years of this project by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group as science advisors, who provided expert assistance with analysis and interpretation of climate data and models. Given a mix of inter-jurisdictional issues involved, the Tribe also solicited the assistance of a strategy advisory group comprised of representatives of Skagit County, the Town of LaConner, and the Shelter Bay Community.
In addition, project staff worked with a tribal community interest group, led by a communications/outreach facilitator, to communicate information on particular significant potential impacts to tribal traditions and practices, and to solicit feedback on concerns and issues. Working with these partners and groups, project staff evaluated a broad range of potential strategy options for targeting to various climate impacts and developed a comprehensive list of recommendations for actions to address specified impacts.
To establish a rational process for evaluating strategy options, the team worked with project advisors to develop a set of evaluation objectives against which to do initial screening of options. The basic set of evaluation objectives included: comprehensiveness, long-term sustainability, dynamic/adaptive approach, fiscal impact and feasibility, non-regulatory approaches, and community goals.
Based on the above mentioned evaluation matrix, an exhaustive list of targeted impacts and strategies was assessed to identify priority issues and preferred options. The primary methodology used for prioritizing impacts was based on a correlation of vulnerability and risk for the given impacts, following from impact assessment performed as discussed in the previous Technical Report.
- Impact: Inundation from sea level rise and storm surge; includes impacts on shoreline areas, structures, habitat, and natural resources within those areas.
- Actions: Shoreline controls (risk zones, setbacks, rolling easements, restrictions); physical controls (bulkhead removal for shoreward migration, armoring for shoreline protection, raising/ hardening structures, raising/extending dikes); habitat enhancement (fill removal, sediment input); land acquisition.
- Impact: Decreased habitat viability due to changing water quality parameters.
- Actions: Aquaculture operations.
Despite our diligent hard work to this point, we do not find this is a time to celebrate. On the contrary, what we have achieved is only the first step in what we expect to be a long and demanding journey into an uncertain future, a future that all signs indicate may be much different than what we know today. While Swinomish may have been hailed for leadership on these issues, we must also face the sobering truth that we are all too far behind already in our efforts to determine how best to meet this uncertain future.