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Swinomish Tribe’s innovative climate plan draws national attention

Coverage of the contentious U.S. presidential campaign and its aftermath has filled the pages of the Washington Post all year.

But it is a near 2,000-word feature article with a Pacific northwest angle in the nationally circulated Post that has drawn responses from readers around the country. Its title: “The 10,000-year-old tribe with a climate plan for the future.”

The Swinomish Tribe’s long-view strategy toward climate adaptation, melding academic science with cultural values, was profiled last week by writer Jim Morrison. It is accompanied by photos of Swinomish elder Larry Campbell, tribal senator Alana Quintasket, Swinomish shellfish scientist Sarah Grossman, Skagit River Systems natural resource technician Taylor Studzinksi and Shelter Bay artist Tracy Powell’s famed carving of The Maiden of Deception Pass, which represents the link between area Native Americans and the sea.

Campbell is credited in the article with helping create a health index that factors cultural and social beliefs along with ecosystem health. Quintasket, elected to the tribe’s governing body in February, alludes to the sense of responsibility to protect the environment borne by Swinomish community members.

Studzinski is pictured planting willow trees in the Barney Lake Conservation Area to restore wildlife habitat and filter stormwater run-off. Grossman is shown measuring an oyster to evaluate which areas provide the best habitats.

Among those quoted in Morrison’s Nov. 24 account are longtime Swinomish Fisheries Manager Lorraine Loomis, who chairs the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Swinomish Director of Environmental Protection Todd Mitchell, a Dartmouth College grad and son of retired La Conner Elementary Principal Ray Mitchell; and Swinomish Environmental Health Officer Jamie Donatuto.

The Post article provides a detailed chronology of the Swinomish response to climate change, which Morrison dates to 2006, when a violent storm here downed trees, caused flooding and forced evacuations.

That, he writes, set in motion a multi-tiered Swinomish climate change battle plan ranging from field projects that sustain the environment in real time – a number of which have been reported in the Weekly News – to a climate-based curriculum for schoolchildren and adults that weds tribal lore with climate science.

The Swinomish approach, Morrison reports, is generational – a game plan designed to tackle climate change in the long term.

One of Morrison’s sources for the story is Meade Krosby, senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington.

Krosby told Morrison that Swinomish is “doing really innovative climate adaptation” and that the tribe is “way ahead of the curve” on climate mitigation.

La Conner native Chet (C.V.) Swanson, now residing in Everett, posted the story on social media and extended his congratulations to Swinomish for a “fascinating article in the Washington Post.”

Janna Gage of Seaport Books in La Conner agreed, calling Morrison’s piece a “wonderful article.”

Readers elsewhere were equally moved by the story.

“The Swinomish plan,” one Post reader wrote in the paper’s e-edition comments section, “may dwarf any national efforts so far.”

A Post subscriber from Tennessee concurred.

“This,” the reader opined, “is the best and most hopeful article on climate change and response I’ve read.”


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