Climate Change Threatens Pacific Northwest Coast Heritage Sites

Climate Change Threatens Coastal Archaeological Sites

By Jes Burns | May 12, 2016

It’s the kind of foggy day you’d expect at Redwood National Park on the Northern California coast. The headlands are shrouded in mist and the gray-blue ocean churns against the shore. “This place is called Shin-yvslh-sri~ – the Summer Place,” says Suntayea Steinruck a member of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation and Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer for Smith River Rancheria.

Her ancestors lived, hunted and fished around what used to be a small village on this site. “It has a name for a reason. Summer Place. We have that connection with the environment, knowing exactly where we come from,” she says from a bluff high above the ocean.

John Green is also Tolowa, a member of the Elk Valley Rancheria, and directly traces his family back to a village in the area. He says there were likely a small group of plank houses on this site, occupied by a few families. This spot was part of a network of Tolowa villages of different sizes and importance up and down the Southern Oregon and Northern California coastline. “You have everything here. But you got to remember that your land was out in the ocean a lot further than it is now. A lot of it has been washed away,” Green says.

This has been especially true in the past few decades. Redwood National Park Archeologist Michael Peterson says in this spot, the cliffs have retracted about three feet just since 2007. “This is a combination of everything bad: increasing climate change, increasing of terrific weather, storms,” Peterson says. “I’ve seen whole redwood logs lying up on top rocks that are like 12 feet above high tide area. You could tell how big the storm, the waves were.”

Erosion has been happening all along the Northwest coast for thousands of years. But recently there’s been a change in the intensity and frequency of coastal storms. “The whole acceleration has increased, and we’re definitely losing sites more rapidly,” says Rick Minor, an archeologist with Heritage Research Associates in Eugene, Oregon. Minor says archeologists in California are already beginning to come together to address the effects of climate change, but Oregon and Washington are lagging behind.

“And clearly if we don’t do something within next decade or so, we’re going to have a huge loss of sites,” he says.  …

Read the rest of this article:

See also: