The Umatilla Tribe in northeastern Oregon promised to take care of the foods that promised to take care of them: water, fish, game, roots and berries. Can they keep that promise in a warming world?
Rising temperatures impact every stage of the salmon lifecycle. Salmon need cold, clear and clean water to survive. In winter, more rain and earlier snowmelt increase the risk of floods that can destroy salmon spawning grounds. In summer, low flows reduce the quantity and quality of salmon habitat. Warmer water temperatures physically stress the fish and block migration routes.
Climate change could also shift the ranges of roots and berries. Scientists project that air temperatures in the Pacific Northwest will increase 3°F by the 2040s, and even relatively small increases in temperature can alter conditions that sustain life. With temperatures changing too quickly for native plants to adapt, their range may shift north or to higher elevations for cooler temperatures. Some may become extinct.
The Umatilla's First Foods have deep history, extending back to original creation beliefs. What's new is the application of this tradition to modern land management decisions affecting all of the reservation's 178,000 acres – from the salmon that spawn in the floodplains to huckleberries growing in the mountains, and beyond to other lands where the tribe has rights to harvest and gather traditional foods.
The Umatilla might be the first tribe in the nation to use foods served at the Longhouse table to guide the way they protect, restore and manage natural resources. The First Foods promise to take care of water, fish, game, roots and berries continues to serve the Umatilla as they adapt to a changing landscape.