According to ClimateBC projections, the Xeni Gwet’in Caretaker Area (XGCA) can expect to see increased warming (~+2.5°C) and precipitation (~+104 mm) by 2050. Seasonally, most of the temperature increase will occur in the winter and spring and most of the precipitation increase will occur during the fall and winter, with summers becoming drier overall. Across different time scales, these changes will likely cause increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, forest composition changes, species migrations or extinctions, altered water flows, and broader consequences for human health and safety in the area; these changes may also increase the potential for growth in the agriculture and tourism sectors. This project involved extensive collaboration with Xeni Gwet’in community members and scientists, who worked together to create an adaptation plan and a series of recommended actions, many of which are currently being implemented as funding and resources allow.
The Xeni Gwet’in First Nation is one of six Tsilhqot’in communities in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, occupying one of the last intact ecosystems on the east side of the Chilcotin mountain range. While the community is relatively dynamic and healthy, it is still healing from the cultural effects of colonization and the residential school system; in addition, the community is increasingly experiencing stress over resource use conflicts in their traditional territory (XGCA) and some of the early impacts of climate change (forest fires and fish stock declines). These impacts alone have left the Xeni Gwet’in somewhat anxious for their future but also determined to face it on their own terms.
When Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) funded an adaptation program in 2009, the Xeni Gwet'in, assisted by Nancy Oppermann, jumped at the chance to improve their knowledge of climate change and climate adaptation and contracted with Ecolibrio, a sustainable development consultancy, to lead the planning.
The project planning lasted 10 months and involved extensive consultation with community members regarding climate history, land use, key concerns, and possible adaptation responses. It also involved extensive consultation with local scientists from specialties in climatology, forestry, hydrology, and limnology, as well as sociology and economics. Two climate scenarios were examined using the ClimateBC model (A1F1 and B2), with the more pessimistic scenario (A1F1) chosen to focus on. Using this model, the XGCA is expected to experience increased warming of about 2.5°C in the winter and spring, and increased precipitation of about 104 mm in the fall and winter by 2050. In the short-term, these changes will likely increase the incidences of larger and hotter wildfires in the region, which may put health, property, water, energy, cultural sites, and livelihoods in the XGCA at risk. In the mid to long-term, forests may shift to a preponderance of Interior Douglas-fir and Ponderosa Pine stands with some amounts of Bunch Grass, resulting in the extinction or migration of some culturally important plants. In the mid to long-term, warmer summers and winters could also threaten glacier stocks and consequently water flows and water quality, especially in the dryer areas of the XGCA like the Chilcotin Plateau. This in turn could have serious negative ramifications for cold water habitats upon which salmon and other cool water fish stocks in the XGCA depend. In addition, a shift to a milder and drier environment will likely result in seasonal foraging challenges for moose, mule deer, California big horn sheep, mountain goats, and grizzly bears, which in some cases may lead to seasonal migration and/or population declines. These longer-term impacts could weaken wild food security and water security for the Xeni Gwet’in as well as jeopardize certain tourism and energy projects. At the same time, long-term climate changes may not be all bad; a warmer climate could present new opportunities for agricultural growth, a longer tourist season, and new eco-forestry development in the XGCA.
The planning team conducted a vulnerability assessment of the region using the WEHAB+ framework (Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and food supply, Biodiversity, + additional elements like infrastructure) developed by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in addition to examining the risks to governance, livelihoods, and culture in the area. Based on this assessment, the planning team and the community members came up with a number adaptation recommendations, which covered biodiversity conservation, food security, water conservation, livelihood diversification, shelter and infrastructure improvements, and health and safety. Primary recommendations included:
- increasing awareness of potential climate risks and options for adaptation;
- improving awareness of the state of the environment in the XGCA;
- increasing capacity for food self-sufficiency;
- enhancing knowledge about water conservation, agricultural diversification, and range management options; and
- reducing fire risk around homes.
The adaptation plan was completed in spring 2010 and since then the community has begun implementing some of the recommendations, including: fire protection around homes and buildings, planning for airstrip improvements, water conservation training for households and ranchers, stream restoration and glacier and groundwater research, construction of a community greenhouse, gardening and food preservation training for householders and school kids, an agricultural diversification strategy and a range management plan. In 2011, implementation will be more modest since government funding has shrunk considerably but the community will pursue what the Chief and Council can mobilize resources for.
Lessons learned from this project include:
- Adaptation and building community resilience should be consistent with overall community development objectives.
- Traditional knowledge forms an important component of First Nation adaptation but it requires considerable time and trust to integrate this knowledge into a planning process.
- Community resilience is intimately linked to ecological resilience.
- Building community adaptation capacity and resilience requires a long-term commitment.
Lerner, J. (2011). Xeni Gwet'in Community-based Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg [Case study on a project of Ecolibrio]. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/xeni-gwetin-community-based-climate-c… (Last updated July 2011)