Land and Range Sector in the Blackfeet Climate Change Adaptation Plan

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Photo by Rikki Ollinger.

The Land and Range chapter of the 2018 Blackfeet Climate Change Adaptation Plan (BCCAP) is one of eight chapters created for the first formal, multi-sector climate change adaptation planning effort in the Blackfeet Nation, following the process described here. This chapter was developed through meetings with managers from the Blackfeet Land Office, and then revised through face-to-face conversation. The first two sections, observed impacts and expected impacts, are sets of working hypotheses about climate change that are based on day-to-day observations and/or interpretations of climate change literature (e.g. the Montana Climate Assessment). These hypotheses were formed for the purposes of assessing climate change vulnerability and then strategizing adaptation goals and actions. This and other sections of the plan will be revisited and updated periodically as action items are implemented and adaptation efforts produce insights for future planning.

The goal of the Land and Range Sector is to focus on planning for protecting native grassland vegetation in a changing climate. Land and range management is primarily under the jurisdiction of the Blackfeet Land Department. However, agriculture resource management planning is currently underway in the Blackfeet Nation, which may result in the creation of an agriculture department with shared responsibility for land and range.

Cowboy saving calf - Rikki Ollinger
Cowboy saving Calf. Photo by Rikki Ollinger.
Observed impacts

Precipitation regimes are shifting and diminishing in length and quantity of moisture. Decreasing moisture weakens native vegetation and allows for noxious weeds to thrive and overtake the native species mix. Thirty percent of snow is lost to evaporation.

Expected impacts

Throughout the reservation, climate change will result in an increase in the spread of noxious weeds and will impact plant composition in native rangeland, particularly of fescues.

HORSES in Medicine Grizzly Rikki Ollinger
Horses in the Medicine Grizzly. Photo by Rikki Ollinger.
Land and Range Assessment

Threats from noxious weeds span the entire Reservation. Noxious weed invasion has already occurred for over a decade. Native vegetation is currently stressed, so the planning timeframe begins now and continues over the long-term.

Probability of impacts to native grassland management
There is a high probability of impact, as impacts are already occurring.

Confidence
High

Potential Consequences of impacts
Potential consequences are high.

The spread of noxious weeds will negatively impact the economy, with losses to cattle ranchers, agriculture, and decreased water retention. Culturally, gathering of traditional and medicinal plants will be affected by changes in the harvest period. Additionally, the removal of ground cover can expose artifacts, creating legal and cultural challenges. Finally, changes in grassland composition may lead to changes in the ranch lifestyle culture on the Reservation and reduced income from cattle grazing leases.

Vulnerability:

Exposure
There is a high level of exposure, and native vegetation is already exposed.

Sensitivity
Sensitivity varies based on micro-climate. Closer to the mountain front, sensitivity is high, and then shifts to medium as one moves east across the Reservation.

Adaptive Capacity
Adaptive capacity is medium because vegetation has the ability to adapt over time. Adaptive capacity, however, requires a focus on policy, as we must change how we manage the land. Adaptability is species-dependent, something policy changes must take into consideration. Policies must support in the adaptation process.

Vulnerability
Vulnerability is medium-high.

Risk:

Estimated Risk
The estimated risk is high, given that there is both high consequence and high probability.

Priority
Priority is high, given that there is high risk and medium-high vulnerability.

Land and Range Adaptation Strategies: Goals and Actions

Responsible Party
Blackfeet Land Department and/or future Agriculture Department

Purpose (Goal)
1) Maintain healthy grasslands.

Priorities
The priority for grassland management is high.

20170712_183655 - Mya Davis
Photo by Mya Davis.
Preparedness goals: strategies and actions

Goal 1: Maintain healthy grasslands

Strategy:
a) Preserve healthy native vegetation species mix and reduce noxious weed invasion

Actions:
1) Reexamine, and adjust if and when necessary, grazing and stocking rates to account for climate impacts.
2) Regulate hay coming into the Reservation (i.e. hay must be certified weed free).
3) Alter the Resource Management Plan (a Bureau of Land Management planning document) to include increased attention to invasive plants (e.g. training cows to eat knapweed, etc.).
4) Implement a detection dog and invasives management program similar to the one used for aquatic check stations (i.e. dogs will be trained to sniff out weeds).
5) Manage Conservation Reserve Program lands for native vegetation.
6) Engage with non-profits and partners with lands on the reservation (i.e. roadways) to effectively manage invasive weeds.
7) Install snow fences for the prairie potholes to reduce loss of snow.

Required and Existing Authority/Capacity
It is important to make partnerships and build capacities with the community. Partnerships should be formed with the following agencies and groups: the Tribe, the community, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Montana Department of Transportation, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish & Wildlife, and Glacier and Pondera Counties. All are partners in some capacity and many are potential sources of funding (e.g. could fund snow fences for the prairies).


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