The Impacts of a Changing Climate on Our Tribes

In Golovin, Alaska a storm caused damage to subsistence fishing camps. The sea ice destroyed the closest berry picking and beach green harvesting areas. Credit: Toby Anungazak Jr., LEO


Tribes in the United States are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate due to the integral nature of the environment within their traditional ways of life and culture. These impacts include erosion, temperature change, drought and various changes in access to and quality of water. As part of EPA’s Climate Adaptation Plan, and in support of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA) has been working closely with tribal partners to provide funding and technical guidance to assist tribes in adapting to these changes.

In Golovin, Alaska the permafrost is melting and has caused the land to cave in. Photo credit: Carol Oliver, LEO

In Golovin, Alaska the permafrost is melting and has caused the land to cave in. Photo credit: Carol Oliver, LEO


Due to this growing vulnerability, there is increased need to develop adaptation strategies that promote sustainability and reduce the impacts of a changing climate on tribes. That’s one of the focuses of OITA’s Draft Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan. This plan, which provides more detail on how OITA will carry out the work called for in the Agency-wide Climate Change Adaptation Plan, is out for public review through the end of 2013.

With the new Guidance on the Indian General Assistance Program (IGAP), there is a renewed push for tribes to use grant funding for climate change adaptation programs. For example, the Native Village of Nelson Lagoon in Southwest Alaska is gathering tidal and erosion progression data to help the community develop a timeline for its likely relocation.

Statewide, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortia (ANTHC) has developed a two-day workshop that helps local communities develop the skills needed to monitor shifts in permafrost, source water conditions, contaminants and air quality due a changing climate. As climate-related anomalies are recorded, ANTHC tracks larger trends and works to connect communities with the technical expertise needed to both develop appropriate adaptation strategies and also mitigate potentially dangerous conditions. This statewide program also improves communication between the various tribes and agencies in Alaska, leveraging the knowledge and resources of all involved.

In Barrow, Alaska whaling crews had to return to shore because the moving ice made it hard to cross the ice during their hunt. Photo credit: Qinugan Roddy, LEO

In Barrow, Alaska whaling crews had to return to shore because the moving ice made it hard to cross the ice during their hunt. Photo credit: Qinugan Roddy, LEO


Beyond grant funding, EPA also supports training programs to support tribes facing the negative effects of the changing climate. For more than 20 years, the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) at Northern Arizona University has provided a variety of resources specific to tribes. In recent years, with support from EPA’s Office of Air & Radiation, ITEP has developed training courses on climate change adaptation planning and online resources to help answer questions about adaptation, mitigation, outreach and funding.

These courses are taught by instructional teams that include staff from ITEP, EPA and other governmental agencies, universities, organizations, and most importantly, the tribes themselves, who share their expertise and experience. To date, more than 90 people from 62 tribes or tribal organizations have been trained in developing adaptation plans to prepare for the expected impacts of climate change.

Jane Nishida is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA), having previously served as the Director of the Office of Regional and Bilateral Affairs within OITA.  In her current capacity, she leads EPA’s international and tribal portfolios, and is responsible for the full range of EPA’s environmental policy development and program implementation in tribal lands and in sovereign nations outside of the United States. Nishida received a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C. 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.