Climate Change and Its Impact on Biodiversity in the Blackfeet Nation

Tara Luna discusses medicinal uses of plants on a beautiful summer day in “Looking Glass”, an area near the western end of the Blackfeet Nation.

By Shawn Davis, Climate Change Intern, Blackfeet Environmental Office

Tara Luna, a botanist who is a resident of East Glacier, Montana, has been studying the effects of climate change on the reservation’s ecosystems over the past several years. She took us around different areas of the reservation and discussed impacts on wetlands, fish and wildlife, and the native species of plants and trees. She also talked about why Blackfeet people used these plants.

Luna says the reservation’s wetlands and alpine forests are the most vulnerable to climate change. There is an entire diversity of plant life in these forests and wetlands, so when they are being affected by climate change, it can drastically endanger many species of plants and animals. Animals like pika and ptarmigan are restricted to alpine ecosystems and are vulnerable to any types of change in the vegetation because they depend on these plants and forests for cover, food, and overwintering, creating nests, and so on.

The Blackfeet were known to have utilized many species of plants, and they still do to this day. In the past, plants, gathered mostly by women, provided about thirty percent of calories consumed. Plants added variety to the basic diet of protein and fat provided by meat. Pemmican, a Cree name for a mix of dried, powdered meat, rendered fat and ground dried fruits, was a nutritious, as well as durable, storable and portable food. Some plants were eaten as soon as they were harvested. Most could be dried in the sun and stored for winter use. Teas were made from plants and used for medicinal purposes.

Luna has made it clear that many of these native species and plants are at a huge risk and are highly vulnerable to climate change. She emphasized how climate change can possibly bring some native species to the brink of extinction, and as a result, the Blackfeet may lose part of their culture and history. This alarmed many us, as we know of the spiritual and cultural importance of plants and animals to our people. Luna’s educational field trip intrigued us and prompted us to take action and lead the charge in protecting these species of plants for future generations.

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