Reports: Climate change could have drastic effects on Navajo

By Andrew Curley
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 15, 2014

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(Times photo — Donovan Quintero)

Animals’ footprints begin to harden in the drying mud at the Many Farms Lake in Many Farms in this July 7, 2013, file photo. (Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

As the Obama Administration released its new report on climate change Tuesday, the Navajo Nation was grappling with the ramifications of the publication of a similar report from scholars at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The report, titled "Considerations for Climate Change and Variability Adaptation on the Navajo Nation," outlines the major challenges facing the Navajo Nation as a result of climate change and what the tribe can do about it.

The Navajo Nation is in a particularly vulnerable position when considering land and water resources because much of the high desert plateau that comprises reservation land is arid and vulnerable to desertification, according to the report's authors.

As one might have predicted, prolonged drought, heat waves, and the risk of fire are the major threats of climate change to the Navajo Nation. This was reinforced by the Obama Administration's report on how climate change is affecting the United States. According to this second report, in the Southwest, where the Navajo Nation is located, drought and fire were the major issues facing the region.

Julie Nania, adjunct faculty at UC-Boulder law school and one of the lead authors of the report, said that climate variability is important to understand. "Variability" means that the extremes in weather are greater, from higher temperatures in the summer to colder temperatures in the winter.

Variability affects how water runs across the land, how fast it evaporates, what kinds of plants and wildlife can grow in these conditions and, ultimately, how Navajo people can continue to maintain a living in this changed environment.

"I would have probably had more of an edge to it, a sense of urgency. We really need actionable steps," John Leeper, former manager at the Division of Water Management, said about the report.

Leeper, who now works for an environmental consulting firm in Socorro, N.M., said he agrees with the report and finds the science and presentation of the material good, but that the Navajo Nation and U.S. federal agencies that deal with the tribe need to understand that the situation is drastic and needs immediate redress.

"Considerations for Climate Change and Variability Adaptation on the Navajo Nation" was published only a couple of weeks ago and tribal lawmakers and citizens are still grappling with its implications.

Lena Begay, climate change coordinator and wildlife technician in the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said they hadn't read this report yet, but they were preparing to address how extreme weather and drought is impacting the Navajo Nation's vulnerable species, such as bears, eagles, mule deer, bobcat, elk, and turkey.

Climate change "will impact them dramatically," she said. "We've been experiencing a drought since the mid-nineties. This affects water resources, plant resources and water systems (more generally). There's really no precipitation. This can affect plant growth and the birth of new animals," she said.

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