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ProtectingFirst Foods

Photo By Benjamin Drummond

The Umatilla Tribes use food to guide the way they protect, restore, and manage natural resources.

The Umatilla tribes in northeastern Oregon promised to take care of the foods that promised to take care of them: water, fish, game, roots, and berries. Can they keep that promise in a warming world?

Rising temperatures impact every stage of the salmon life cycle. Salmon need cold, clear, and clean water to survive. In winter, more rain and earlier snowmelt increase the risk of floods that can destroy salmon spawning grounds. In summer, low flows reduce the quantity and quality of salmon habitat, constricting migration routes. Warmer water temperatures physically stress the fish.







Climate change could also alter the growing conditions for traditional roots and berries. Scientists project that air temperatures in the Pacific Northwest will increase 3°F by the 2040s, and even relatively small increases in temperature can alter conditions that sustain life.

With temperatures changing too quickly for native plants to adapt, their range may shift north or to higher elevations for cooler temperatures. Some may become extinct.

The Umatilla’s First Foods have deep history, extending back to original creation beliefs. What’s new is the application of this tradition to modern land management decisions affecting all of the reservation’s 178,000 acres — from the salmon that spawn in the floodplains to huckleberries growing in the mountains — and beyond to other lands where the tribe has rights to harvest and gather traditional foods.

The First Foods promise to take care of water, fish, game, roots, and berries continues to serve the Umatilla as they adapt to a changing landscape.