Pyramid Lake
Institute of the Environment 2017

Pathways to Adaptation for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe has deep cultural, physical, and spiritual connections to Pyramid Lake, a terminal desert lake fed by the Truckee River in Nevada. The Paiute once called themselves the “Kooyooee Tukadu” or “Cui-ui Eaters,” after the now-endangered Cui-ui fish endemic to the lake, and rely on revenue from Lahontan cutthroat trout fisheries for their livelihoods.

But warmer temperatures, decreasing rain and snowfall, and diminished water quality threaten the tribe’s traditions and economic ties to their environment, spurring Karletta Chief to determine the Paiute’s potential to adapt to climate change and help the tribe develop water management strategies.

Colleagues from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the U.S. Geological Survey also are involved in the research, which is funded through a grant from the IE-based Southwest Climate Science Center to help decision makers, resource managers, and communities adapt to the effects of climate change in the U.S. Southwest.

Chief, an assistant professor in the UA’s Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science and a member of the Navajo Nation, has been working with the Paiute since 2009. In a survey she conducted with members of the tribe, 93 percent of respondents expressed their priority for climate change action at the national level.

In fall 2013, Chief and her research team held a two-day interactive workshop with the tribe and other stakeholders to identify the main environmental issues they face and brainstorm management alternatives to those issues.

Water quality and water quantity were among the most significant issues community members voiced, says Autumn Bryson, director of the tribe’s Environmental Department.

“It’s really important to the tribe to keep water levels up to keep Cui-ui populations healthy but also to maintain water quality that’s suitable for the Cui-ui to live in,” Bryson says.

With stakeholder input, Chief and other researchers will identify adaptive strategies to help the tribe prepare for changes and will continue to gather data and traditional ecological knowledge during a second workshop. “The strategies that they’re going to be recommending for the tribe to be able to adapt to climate changes are really helpful,” says Bryson.

Chief’s research team will offer an online video that outlines the habitat and spawning needs of both the Cui-ui and the trout to identify where the species might be most at risk to changing conditions. “[The work is] going to give us a head start in adapting to climate change,” Bryson says.