Preparing for Impacts on Archeological Sites and Traditional Resources, Olympic National Park, Washington

Dave Conca
Posted on: 11/25/2015 - Updated on: 8/23/2022

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Archeological sites and traditional resources of significance to indigenous groups along the Olympic Coast are being affected by climate change. The goals of this project can be split into three facets. The first is for the park to foster communication, data sharing, and cooperation between the eight federally listed tribes on the Olympic Peninsula and the National Park Service (NPS) to ensure proper alignment of resources and priorities for climate change adaptation. The second is to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to develop long-term, proactive plans for managing coastal archeological sites in the face of sea level change and increased coastal erosion, including surveys for additional sites that could be threatened. A final goal is for the park and the tribes to move forward with the clear understanding that tribal resource concerns are best understood at the landscape level and without a sharp distinction between “natural” and “cultural” resources; cross-discipline participation and communication is critical. 


The Olympic Coastal Strip, most of which is roadless and designated wilderness, includes a highly dynamic environment ranging from rocky headlands to broad sand beaches. Archeological sites and important traditional resources at Olympic National Park include terrestrial, intertidal, and submerged archeological resources as well as resources encompassed within offshore, nearshore, intertidal, and shoreline environments. These resources will be affected by sea level changes, inundation, and coastal erosion.

Coastal archeological sites, particularly shell middens, are actively eroding and will likely continue to do so. These sites are important to local tribes both for their traditional values and also for the cultural and scientific data they contain. Erosion of middens along the coast often exposes faunal remains, artifacts, and other sensitive materials that can be damaged or lost through wave action or inappropriate treatment by visitors. A worst-case scenario for exposed and highly visible coastal midden sites includes exposure of sensitive materials, increased unauthorized disturbances, and loss of data. A major challenge in this regard is to develop and implement long-term management actions for coastal archeological sites given that erosion prevention is infeasible in most cases.

A critical need to guide future planning and adaptation is acquisition of updated baseline data on archeological site condition and potential climate-related threats.

One way to effectively address climate-related changes to the large variety of resources is for the NPS to work with tribes to identify important traditional resources. This includes working to understand how the resources were and are collected, how they were and are managed, and how they are affected by climate change. The development of appropriate adaptation strategies for archeological sites and traditional resources will require dedicated resources and staff to complete condition assessments and tribal consultation.


Olympic National Park has identified and implemented several climate change adaptation actions on the Olympic Peninsula. In 2008 the park and eight federally recognized tribes signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that guides consultation and data sharing among and between the participating groups. Required annual MOU meetings have been and will continue to be an excellent forum for climate change adaptation planning at the parkwide level and should be used to foster engagement for more detailed discussion and actions with individual tribes. The MOU agreement specifically provides for creation of workgroups to address issues like climate change in greater detail.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The park’s cultural resources branch has submitted funding proposals to complete condition assessments and data collection for coastal archeological sites and to complete archeological surveys on raised beach terraces.

Park archeologists, in coordination with local tribes and park law enforcement staff, continue active monitoring of coastal archeological sites as staff time and resources permit.


This case study is part of the 2015 National Park Service report, Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies. These case studies initially were developed by park managers as part of a NPS-led coastal adaptation training in May 2012. The case studies follows the format created for EcoAdapt’s Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) database, including a list of adaptation strategies. All case studies were updated and modified in September 2013 and March 2015 in response to a growing number of requests from coastal parks and other coastal management agencies looking for examples of climate change adaptation strategies for natural and cultural resources and assets along their ocean, lacustrine, and riverine coasts.


Conca, D. (2015). Preparing for Impacts on Archeological Sites and Traditional Resources, Olympic National Park, Washington [Case study on a project of the Olympic National Park]. Excerpted from Schupp, C.A., R.L. Beavers, and M.A. Caffrey [eds.]. 2015. Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies. NPS 999/129700. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado. Retrieved from CAKE:…;(Last updated November 2015)

Affiliated Organizations

From tiny unique flowers on icy peaks to sea stars patrolling foaming tide pools, myriad species find refuge in the sanctuary of Olympic National Park. Geology, climate, isolation, history and sheer size mean this nearly one million-acre park protects relatively intact ecosystems, making it a priceless living laboratory and a home for plants and animals large and small.


Effort Stage
Sociopolitical Setting
Target Climate Changes and Impacts

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