Terry Williams, commissioner of fisheries and natural resources for the Tulalip Tribes, addressed global warming during a presentation to a tribal public administration class at The Evergreen State College.
Williams, taking the long view of Native American oral histories, said the Europeans were mistaken when they imagined that the bountiful landscapes they witnessed at first contact were natural. These were managed by Native American hands, he said. When that management was replaced with a different one, one that wanted to control water, the environment began to tip. Landscapes across America that once were naturally irrigated have been dried out for generations. And the earth has a constant thirst.
“The U.S. doesn’t know what they’ve done to themselves,” Williams said. “On the east coast, we changed the landscape dramatically. The prairies of the Midwest are almost gone.”
The shifting landscape results from one thing: the human population.
Population growth, the most pressing environmental issue in the Pacific Northwest, is only likely to expand. The population of Washington state is expected to double from 6 million to 12 in the coming years. People, Williams said, will only increasingly move toward the coast if, as some predict, the inland deserts turn to dust bowl conditions as water resources decline.
“We’re almost out of water now.”
Williams, who is from one of the Northwest tribes who call themselves salmon people, said, the management of fishing seasons can’t alone save Pacific salmon runs. Maybe, ecologically speaking, nothing can.