Climatic Change

, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 643–655 | Cite as

Exploring effects of climate change on Northern Plains American Indian health

  • John T. DoyleEmail author
  • Margaret Hiza Redsteer
  • Margaret J. Eggers


American Indians have unique vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change because of the links among ecosystems, cultural practices, and public health, but also as a result of limited resources available to address infrastructure needs. On the Crow Reservation in south-central Montana, a Northern Plains American Indian Reservation, there are community concerns about the consequences of climate change impacts for community health and local ecosystems. Observations made by Tribal Elders about decreasing annual snowfall and milder winter temperatures over the 20th century initiated an investigation of local climate and hydrologic data by the Tribal College. The resulting analysis of meteorological data confirmed the decline in annual snowfall and an increase in frost free days. In addition, the data show a shift in precipitation from winter to early spring. The number of days exceeding 90 ˚F (32 ˚C) has doubled in the past century. Streamflow data show a long-term trend of declining discharge. Elders noted that the changes are affecting fish distribution within local streams and plant species which provide subsistence foods. Concerns about warmer summer temperatures also include heat exposure during outdoor ceremonies that involve days of fasting without food or water. Additional community concerns about the effects of climate change include increasing flood frequency and fire severity, as well as declining water quality. The authors call for local research to understand and document current effects and project future impacts as a basis for planning adaptive strategies.


Total Dissolve Solid Northern Great Plain Tribal Member National Climate Assessment Subsistence Food 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thank you to the many Crow Tribal members who contributed their personal observations of changes to the Reservation’s climate, water resources and phenology over the recent decades, and particularly to Sara Young, whose initial observations inspired this work. Anne Camper (Montana State University Bozeman), David Anning (Arizona Water Science Center, US Geological Survey) and anonymous reviewers provided useful suggestions.

The work at Little Big Horn College was supported by a NSF Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement grant; Center for Native Health Partnerships’ Grant #P20MD002317 from NIH’s National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities; EPA STAR Research Assistance Agreement #FP91674401 and an EPA - National Center for Environmental Research Grant # R833706. The content is solely the authors’ responsibility; it has not been formally reviewed by the funders and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the EPA. The EPA does not endorse any of the products mentioned.

Supplementary material

10584_2013_799_MOESM1_ESM.docx (477 kb)
Supplement Document I (DOCX 476 kb)
10584_2013_799_MOESM2_ESM.docx (473 kb)
Supplement Document II (DOCX 472 kb)
10584_2013_799_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (242 kb)
Supplement Table I & II (PDF 236 kb)
10584_2013_799_MOESM4_ESM.pptx (179 kb)
ESM 1 (PPTX 179 kb)


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Copyright information

© U.S. Government 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • John T. Doyle
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Margaret Hiza Redsteer
    • 4
    • 5
  • Margaret J. Eggers
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Crow Water Quality ProjectLittle Big Horn CollegeCrow AgencyUSA
  2. 2.Apsaalooke Water and Wastewater AuthorityCrow AgencyUSA
  3. 3.Crow Environmental Health Steering CommitteeCrow AgencyUSA
  4. 4.Crow Tribal memberCrow ReservationUSA
  5. 5.US Geological Survey Flagstaff Science CampusFlagstaffUSA
  6. 6.Little Big Horn CollegeCrow AgencyUSA
  7. 7.Microbiology Department/CBEMontana State University BozemanBozemanUSA

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