Yurok Chairman will testify before House of Representatives committee

Joseph L. James is the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe.(Photo: Yurok Tribe)

Chairman Joseph L. James will inform Congress about climate change’s impacts in Yurok Country

News Release

Yurok Tribe

Today, Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James is back in Washington DC to deliver testimony on how the Yurok Tribe can work with Congress to address climate change threats to the Yurok people and the Klamath River Basin.

“The Yurok Tribe is grateful for this opportunity to provide testimony about ways that we can partner with the federal government to prepare for and adapt to climate change,” Chairman James said. “We have always been a proud and resilient people, and we will testify today as to how we can continue with that tradition as we face new challenges, such as climate change.” 

Chairman James’ testimony before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies begins at 1 p.m. (EST) and can be viewed live here: 

While addressing climate change will require global commitments, Chairman James’ testimony will focus on how the Yurok Tribe is building its capacity to address current and future impacts on Tribal lands. The Tribal leader will emphasize that implementing projects to prepare and adapt to climate change effects is more cost-effective than responding after catastrophes strike. 

 “For us, climate change is no longer discussed as something that will happen in the future, it is happening now. Many of the predicted effects of climate change including floods, droughts, extreme fire behavior, and increased stress to aquatic life, are already happening,” according to Chairman James’ oral testimony. 

The Klamath River’s Chinook salmon, the Yurok Tribe’s most valued resource, are already struggling because of the effects of climate change. In the past three years, the Tribe has canceled its annual commercial fishery and even closed its subsistence fishery for the first time in history in 2017 because of record low salmon runs. Climate change is only expected to increase the stress on this and other species important not only to the Tribe but also to the regional economy.  

“When fish runs are too low to support fishing, impacts to our community and associated way of life are substantial,” Chairman James said. “Fishing remains an important part of our sustenance and economy. The Yurok Tribe supports large-scale water quality and habitat improvement projects throughout the Klamath Basin.” 

The Yurok Tribe is seeking to expand efforts already underway to minimize the effects of climate change, including regional water quality improvement projects, fisheries restoration, and forest revitalization. To build resiliency, the Tribe is restoring old-growth forest systems in the Lower Klamath watershed, which also benefits of salmon and native wildlife. Additionally, the Tribe’s approach to managing the lands of the Lower Klamath aims to reduce the risk of devastating forest fires, as well as improve water quality and fish habitat. 

Chairman James will inform the House Subcommittee about an urgent need for funding to bolster the Tribe’s ability to perform fisheries and water quality restoration work throughout the basin. 

Emergency Response 

In addition to the risks to the Klamath Basin’s natural resources, emergency response will be another primary element of the Chairman’s testimony. More frequent weather extremes are already becoming apparent, whether they are floods, such as recently occurred, or fire, which has increased in frequency and severity in the past two decades. Because of this, the region’s transportation and emergency response infrastructure are coming under increasing strain. For instance, last week, the Tribe issued a state of emergency declaration after a particularly powerful rain event caused landslides, the failure of multiple Tribal community water systems and extensive road damage on the reservation.  

“The role of the Yurok Tribal Government is to protect our people and resources, which means we must be prepared to respond to all of these crises. We seek funding to proactively prepare for climate change instead of reacting after catastrophe strikes. In the event of a disaster, we need the resources and infrastructure in place to protect our members,” Chairman James said. “It’s a wise investment to prepare instead of reacting to these challenges.”  

This is the second time in two weeks that Chairman James has testified before members of Congress and the third time a Tribal representative has been invited to speak before federal lawmakers this year. On February 27, Chairman James spoke educated the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the Tribe’s effort to reintroduce the imperiled California condor in the Pacific Northwest. In September Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti accepted a request to brief the committee on how the federal government can aid tribes in improving outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

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