Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) met with tribal community leaders Aug. 7 to discuss the ways in which extreme storms and flooding caused by climate change have threatened Lac du Flambeau’s ability to harvest wild rice both culturally and economically in recent years.

Last month, Senator Baldwin wrote to tribes and tribal leaders to learn how climate change affects their livelihood and the impact it poses on the tribe’s way of life and economic opportunities.

“Fortunately, we were able to secure some funding with the Department of Energy for a two-year grant to develop a climate resilience plan,” climate resilience project director Eric Chapman said. 

According to Chapman, the primary goals of the Lac du Flambeau Resilience Initiative are to establish a comprehensive Climate Resiliency Plan which would incorporate environmental impact thinking into the everyday management of Lac du Flambeau Tribal Program departments while honoring traditions and customs.

“We came up with four issues that we wanted to tackle with this project,” Chapman said. “We wanted to assess vulnerability as we recognize certain species that we felt were threatened.”

Chapman said the vulnerability assessment wanted to not only bring attention to concerns over natural resources, but also include environmental, health, and infrastructure concerns. 

Chapman said they also wanted to develop an adaptation plan which would identify actions the community can take to prepare for climate change, as well as a hazard mitigation plan to reduce natural and man-made risks the community faces and an energy reduction plan.

“We engaged our tribal community and our tribal leaders and staff and we also had surveys done at our community expo and did interviews with staff members and interviews with our elders,” Chapman said. “We wanted to make sure that what they saw and enjoyed in the years before we had a chance to, sort of record the changes that they’ve seen.”

Through engaging the community, the Initiative not only gained valuable insight, but also established the Tribal Climate Resilience Planning Team and identify approximately 52 key concerns or hazards.

Though there are still some concerns out there, Chapman stated what they had to do as a planning team was prioritize which concerns they could focus on due limited amount of funding.

Wild rice was one of the plant species the Tribe was concerned about, with key natural resources supporting the integral part of the culture and diet jeopardized by a changing climate.

“Wild rice is one of the plant species that we will be doing boundary assessment and planning for, making sure it’s here in the future,” Chapman said.



Broadening the conversation

The visit last Wednesday morning was the beginning of a broader conversation regarding plans to tackle the larger implications of changes to the environment.

One of the greatest barriers, Chapman indicated, was funding.

Of the 52 key concerns identified, funding only allowed for 24 to be pursued.

Baldwin mentioned the current authorization for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative expires in 2021, but that efforts to get a head start in reauthorizing it to get as “much input as possible” were underway.

“For the first time in a long time, there’s agreement between the parties that we need to increase the overall funding for it (GLRI),” Sen. Baldwin said. “I think it’s been attacked in the last few years, and we’ve been successful in keeping it level-funded.”

Sen. Baldwin said there were plans to bring the funding, over time, up to $475 million, rather than the current $300 million.

“We know how much need there is to protect the greatest freshwater supply in the world and if there are, along the lines you were suggesting, revisions we need to make in the law that makes it easier and that pays attention to any unique or specific needs of the tribes in the Great Lakes Basin, let us know,” Sen. Baldwin said. “We’re very early on in the process and we can certainly work on modifications.”

As for broadening the conversation to include tribal nations on the state and national levels, Sen. Baldwin said it was critical to have consultation.

Sen. Baldwin said often laws, policies, and regulations were put in place without input or consultation from the tribal nations. 

“There are 11 federally recognized tribes in the State of Wisconsin and they have a rightful voice in all of this, anything that affects them, and so we had a lot of constructive dialogue, both in my morning session as well as this afternoon session about how we can make that a more regular process of what we do,” Sen. Baldwin said. 

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah@lakelandtimes.com.