Inclusion of Climate-Change Effects on Lake Levels in Management Plans of Tribal Fisheries

Little Traverse Bay at sunset

Project Team

Frank J. Marsik, Richard B. Rood – University of Michigan
Kyle P. Whyte – Michigan State University

Project Summary

The Great Lakes Water Levels Integrated Assessment aims to help decision makers address the challenges and opportunities posed by Great lakes water level variability.
For Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region (including federally-recognized Tribes), water is a fundamental element of spiritual, cultural, economic and political significance. Climate change has the potential to impose a wide spectrum of impacts on freshwater ecosystems within the Great Lakes. Moreover, warming air temperatures play an important role in controlling the water levels of the Great Lakes, as air-water temperature differences, and the extent of seasonal ice coverage, drive evaporation from these lakes. These climate and water level changes pose challenges for the: (a) management of Tribal fisheries which support important fish populations and (b) protection of culturally important coastal sites (ex: Tribal burial grounds).
Through meetings with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians during the planning grant phase, the team developed a trust-based relationship/approach through which  “western science” approaches and indigenous science approaches can be integrated into considerations of climate change effects on lake levels in management plans for Tribal fisheries and coastal sites. 
Following jointly-developed collaborative work plans that will guide the combined efforts of the research team and Tribes, this project will identify climate-driven lake level futures for the Lake Michigan-Huron system and then  assess the potential impact of these plausible futures on the vulnerabilities of Tribal communities, their fisheries, and their Tribal governance. This project will support each Indigenous Tribe in the development of: (a) climate change adaptation strategies associated with each of these plausible futures and (b) community education and engagement activities that will be required to gain community commitment for these adaptation strategies.
This project received a $50,000 Integrated Assessment Grant in 2015.