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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA CLIMAS initiative helps Hopi Tribe address drought devastation

The southwest is no stranger to decade-long droughts that affect the agricultural practices of various communities. Unfortunately, climate projections indicate the droughts are only going to get worse in the coming years and this places a cultural strain on the Hopi Tribe’s traditional way of life.

In response, the UA Climate Assessment for the Southwest program has been working to provide research on the nature, causes and consequences of climate change. The drought project has been underway since 2009 and is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The CLIMAS project was initiated when the Hopi Tribe Department of Natural Resources showed UA researchers the impacts caused by droughts. Researchers found that by using conventional scientific observations, tribal leaders can make decisions to haul water and close rangelands in response to the drought’s impact.

RELATED: Flying the friendly skies: UA scientists use airplanes to research climate change

In partnership with the Hopi Tribe, CLIMAS proposed adaptation strategies for decreasing the impact of droughts in the Southwest. This research also helps explore more climate-related health impacts to the Native American population in the area.

“There has been a rise of asthma in young children, but there is no direct connection if this is caused by the drought itself,” said Hopi Vice Chairman Alfred Lomahquahu, Jr.

CLIMAS project leader Dan Ferguson said a drought monitoring system has been implemented to help promote more conversation so that those affected by droughts can ultimately have a more resilient landscape. They have been assessing the tribe’s vulnerability to droughts and have developed drought indicators.

Ferguson also says that CLIMAS wants to understand how Hopi citizens experience droughts, the type of information they use and what is expected of tribal leaders in cases of drought monitoring and planning. Many of those who participated have implemented individual-level strategies to adjust to the conflicting conditions.

“The people have been living in this territory for over 1000 years,” Lomahquahu said. “They can manage to harvest crops with minimal precipitation. They have made their crops smaller as an effect and thanks to that, there hasn’t been any migration.”

Tobacco used in prayer ceremonies has become a scarce resource in the community. Springs that reserve water for cattle have dried up, forcing ranchers to reduce their cattle count. Private organizations have put limited funding into the cause to build catches to withhold precipitated waters. 

RELATED: Grasslands imperiled by climate change

The tribe practices dry farming of corn, but this is a process that relies heavily on precipitation and runoff, rather than irrigation. Southwest droughts have dried up springs, severely limited traditional edible resources and forced ranchers to cull cattle.

Participants from the tribe pointed out both physical and spiritual reasons for the dry condition. They emphasize an ecological connection between people and the environment.

Drought monitoring and response has helped advance research and community efforts in the Hopi territory.

The CLIMAS program and the Hopi Tribe have been working in full cooperation in hopes of tackling the issue.

The Hopi territory is a vast desert landscape that has made it difficult and expensive for the tribe to work and live in.

The Hopi Reservation is a 2,500-square-mile territory that receives approximately 8.5 inches of precipitation every year. In the past, these impacting droughts raised concern over detection, response and planning for the adverse climate.

Ferguson said this project has brought the community together in an attempt to form efficient adaptation strategies on a citizen-to-government level, alleviating some of the stresses on cultural activities caused by these droughts.

Follow Victor Garcia on Twitter.

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