Wind River Reservation: Drought Risk and Adaptation in the Interior Report

From the North Central Climate Science Center, this report looks at the social-ecological vulnerabilities, risks, and response capacities of the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) to drought. The Center's Drought Risk and Adaptation in the Interior project relies on social-ecological systems frameworks to understand adaptation initiatives in the north central region of the U.S. This report discusses the results of drought risk interviews with tribal resource managers at WRIR, in order to inform drought preparedness planning and climate change adaptation efforts.

Located in west-central Wyoming, the WRIR is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. While drought is part of natural variability in the region, multiple extreme droughts have occurred in the first two decades of the 21st century, prompting an urgent need to build tribal capacity to prepare for and respond to changing climatic conditions. 

22 in-depth interviews with water, land, and resource managers at WRIR were conducted in the context of the following five overarching themes:

  • How managers frame and interpret drought and drought risks
  • Indicators that are used to determine drought progression and impacts
  • Management decisions that are affected by drought
  • Capacities and barriers to respond to drought
  • Impacts to key management issues and livelihoods

The results of the interviews are organized according to:

  1. water availability as a function of biophysical, physical, infrastructure, and social drivers
  2. spatial variabilities in drought vulnerability within and between watersheds
  3. drawbacks associated with “Futures” water rights (the “paper” rights awarded to the tribes)

Section 3.2 discusses how the results of the interviews with local Shoshone and Arapaho experts can inform drought risk assessment and drought planning - highlighting 3 primary considerations: 

  • Documentation of historical drought periods and their impacts on the landscape for use as analogs for future impacts
  • Identification of indicators and information sources managers use and considerations of timing and seasonality important for decision-making on the landscape that together ensure relevant data is used for physical climate assessments at scales that match managers’ decision context and helps to determine where and how to present results of such assessments
  • Identification of additional drought risk monitoring needs

Additionally, interview results can help inform ecological impact assessments through the identification of species habitats, ecosystems of concern, specific species relationships, and important variables to consider in an assessment.

The interviews are part of a larger collaborative project consisting of physical climate, ecological impacts, and social sciences teams at WRIR which aim to co-produce a Drought Management Plan. The plan would integrate their expertise, climate science with traditional local knowledge to build adaptive capacity for WRIR.  


Publication Date: 2017

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  • Case study
  • Indicators

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