Swinomish Climate Change Initiative

“If adaptation is to be our future, we at Swinomish have already proved ourselves equal to the challenge. In the spirit and knowledge of our long history, I urge those within our community to embrace this challenge, and to meet it with every confidence of success. That is the true essence of Swinomish.”   Chairman Brian Cladoosby Speepots, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

In October of 2007 the Swinomish Indian Senate issued a Proclamation directing action to respond to climate change challenges. The Proclamation acknowledged the potential for issues and impacts in the vicinity of the Swinomish Indian Reservation and directs tribal departments and staff to undertake efforts and studies for promoting long-term proactive action.  Following this Proclamation, the Tribe attained funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Administration for Native Americans (ANA), to support a major new $400,000 Climate Change Initiative. ANA provided 80% of the funding, and the Tribe matched the remaining 20%.

The Swinomish Climate Change Initiative began by assessing local climate impacts and vulnerabilities, and prioritizing planning areas and actions to address the possible effects of climate change, as related to health, culture, the built environment, and the natural environment. The ultimate goal at the time was to develop an action plan for the future based on a comprehensive study of where potential risks and impacts of are expected to occur. The Climate Adaptation Action Plan was released in 2010. 

The Proclamation, climate impact assessment, and adaptation plan laid the foundation for the adaptation project team to "assemble a comprehensive adaptation strategy toolbox. Types of options in the toolbox included non-regulatory tools such as buffers and incentives, regulatory controls such as shoreline restrictions and setbacks, options to allow shoreward migration of beaches and habitat, practical engineering techniques such as bank protection or raising/hardening structures where desired or appropriate, and improved risk prevention planning. To establish a rational process for evaluating strategy options, the team worked with project advisors to develop a set of evaluation objectives against which to do initial screening of options, and using those objectives the team developed a set of action recommendations.

Take away lessons:

  • Swinomish Senate’s leadership on climate change since 2007 has empowered tribal policy and science staff to tackle immediate challenges.

  • Considerable progress has been made on numerous science and policy fronts to begin adaptation actions and bolster community preparedness.

  • Long-term strategies, plans and projects are underway and will help the Tribe move forward in a science-based, coordinated manner to be prepared and continue adapting to climate change."

The Swinomish Indian Reservation, located on the southeastern peninsula of Fidalgo Island in Washington state, is surrounded by water on three sides and is adjacent to low-lying mainland areas - susceptible to sea-level rise among other related climate change impacts. The tribe’s historic and cultural reliance on many traditionally used resources is also at risk due to climate change.


Publication Date: 2008

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  • Agency guidance/policy

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