The Fond du Lac Band lives on a 101,000-acre reservation in northeast Minnesota about 20 miles inland from Lake Superior in the far western corner of the lake.
Low water levels may mean it's not safe to get canoes into the waters and hand-harvest rice in the traditional manner, she said, pointing to a rice operation by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa that had to shut down in 2007 after drought made it too difficult to maneuver canoes. The rice itself is at risk of being phased out by other native species, she said, noting that the rice is "very sensitive to hydrologic changes."
Though tribes in this area are doing what they can to invest in clean energy and study local water temperature trends to help plan future adaptation strategies, "there's still really fundamental questions remaining" about what the future environment will look like, she said.
A 'cultural identity' at risk of being transformed
"Will there still be wild rice? Will there still be birch bark to harvest? Will there still be a sugar bush?" she asked. "Right now, we certainly don't have those answers."
While there is a certain amount of uncertainty in predicting climate change impacts, the various models forecast that the Great Lakes region may see lower lake levels "on the order of 1 to 2 feet, said EPA's Davis.
In February, the Obama administration rolled out a five-year Great Lakes Action plan dedicated to adapting to some of these effects and restoring the area.
The plan, which would cost more than $2 billion to carry out, lays out five central goals it hopes to address in the coming years: restoring lost wetlands, controlling invasive species, tackling runoff pollution, addressing toxics like mercury, and promoting accountability and education efforts.
As water levels decline, toxics need to get cleaned up, and "fast," said Davis. "The reason is that with climate change scenarios starting to kick in, we have to get those areas cleaned up so we aren't unwittingly circulating more contaminants than we need to," he said.
To adapt to the warmer temperatures, "The most important thing we can do is to use the best science in all the initiatives that are under way," added Andy Buchsbaum, the Great Lakes regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation.
"Don't just look at the way things are now, but the way they are likely to be in the coming years, and use all the resources we have now in the service of preparing for climate change," he said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500