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Media Spotlight: The Wind River Indian Reservations’ Vulnerability to the Impacts of Drought and the Development of Decision Tools to Support Drought Preparedness

For the month of March, the North Central Climate Science Center will be highlighting each of the recently announced projects recommended for funding in 2015 that will guide our revamp work in the years to come. This week, we will look at a project lead by Dr. Cody Knutson of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln entitled “The Wind River Indian Reservation’s Vulnerability to the Impacts of Drought and the Development of Decision Tools to Support Drought Preparedness.”

Frequent and severe drought is common in parts of the north central United States, and without a systematic approach and capacity to monitor rainfall data and drought impacts, many Native American communities are left vulnerable. The Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) in western Wyoming, which encompasses 2.2 million acres of irrigated agriculture, desert grassland, sagebrush steppe, and alpine forest, is one such community. To address their vulnerable positioning, leadership from the reservation has outlined a number of drought priorities, including:

1.    Managing water and vegetation on agricultural and rangelands;

2.    Minimizing impacts on ungulates and substantive harvest and cultural activities;

3.    Protecting fisheries health; and

4.    Maintaining human health and wellbeing.

In response to this demand, this highly collaborative research team is taking a social-ecological systems approach to addressing some of the climate-related vulnerability issues facing the WRIR community. Importantly, this research also strives to correct gaps in capacity by engaging tribal resource managers, youth, and elders in drought science and preparedness education programs that facilitate multi-generational tribal knowledge approaches to land, water, and livestock management. The development of a series of decision tools to support drought preparedness will be vital in advancing the capacity of these tribal members in the face of a changing climate. Additionally, the project hopes to establish a set of lessons-learned that can be transferable to other resource managers in the north central region.

One of the core principles of this project is a focus on enhancing collaborative learning between research scientists and traditional knowledge communities. Leveraging both of these unique capacities will allow scientists to pool data and create tools that tribal leaders will be able to utilize over a longer-range future. This is particularly important as the region is home to several native species of concern, including the Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the greater sage grouse that are likely to be threatened by changes in climate and water availability.

For more information on this and other funded projects, click here.