UC Riverside ecologists are working alongside researchers from San Diego State University and the Climate Science Alliance’s Tribal Working Group in the California Strategic Growth Council’s Climate Change Research Program’s project, dedicated to aiding Southern California’s Native American tribal nations as they adapt to climate change.

The overarching goal of this project is to help tribal nations develop better knowledge and actions that enhance persistence of cultural practices with an emphasis on preserving the ecosystems and species that are central to tribal communities and their survival in the midst of climate changes. According to Helen Regan, professor in UCR’s Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology Department and co-principal investigator of the project, there are five objectives that combine to achieve this goal: 

The first objective is to enhance understanding of short and long-term climate change impacts to culturally significant plants and to develop better strategies for conservation and protection of these natural landscapes in ways that work in conjunction with tribal culture, tradition, health and wellness. The second is to assess the vulnerability of said plants to climate changes, which will serve to inform restoration actions to maintain biodiversity and increase food security. 

Janet Franklin, co-principal investigator and distinguished professor of biogeography in UCR’s Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, informed The Highlander that the Tribal Working Group has been integral in providing them knowledge of these culturally significant plants that are intrinsic to the Southern California environment, detailing traditional usages of local plants like oak trees, yucca, white sage and mesquite.

The third objective is to identify and provide seed funding for related projects that will test restoration and climate adaptation strategies on tribal lands. The fourth is to evaluate the workability of options in regards to strengthening tribal ability to implement such strategies in order to manage these culturally significant species. The final objective is to create a set of products and applications that can be used to take a robust approach towards supporting the maintenance of traditional or cultural food systems and cultural information about relevant species. 

Regan also emphasized the importance of the collaborative nature of this project, as it places a focus on Native American communities and their role in climate change research. She explained that tribal communities across Southern California are already working to prepare for and reduce the risks and dangers associated with these extreme events and changing conditions. However, because these tribes are not considered a part of state, county or city jurisdictions, their needs are not included within existing local plans. For this reason, they suffer from a lack of resources.

“We see this unique partnership and the leadership and involvement of Climate Science Alliance Tribal Working Group members and researchers at San Diego State University as a way to gain momentum to provide a space that includes diverse perspectives to advance resilience planning across sectors and jurisdictions,” Regan stated. 

Franklin added that all partners of this project, including the Climate Science Alliance, have “put unique community outreach” at the forefront of this initiative. This means that the project involves supporting tribal leaders in hosting outreach efforts for other tribal environmental and cultural leaders, managers, community members, elders and youth in order to support integration of research findings into tribal projects and plans. It also includes hosting meetings for tribal and nontribal professionals and other stakeholders to explore opportunities to integrate the aforementioned findings into conservation efforts across the area, as well as developing educational resources for Climate Kids Tribes actions and developing general resources and outreach materials for relevant community and public events.

Interested parties can read more here.