Step 2. Identify Concerns & Gather Information

Identify the Tribe’s climate-related concerns and gather information from multiple perspectives to better understand the challenges and set the stage for assessing vulnerability and planning for action.

Step 2 Content

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Step 2 Checklist

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Step 2 tribal Examples

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Activity 1: Gathering and Application of Relevant Traditional Knowledges

Build on the ways in which the Tribe may already incorporate Traditional Knowledges in Tribal planning or policy activities.

“These recent efforts are a continuation of the work our elders have done for years in observing and considering climate change on our lands.”

Guiding Questions

Helpful questions to consider during this activity.

Considerations for integrating and protecting
Traditional Knowledges during this activity.

The traditional practices and culture of the Tribe are often held in Traditional Knowledges (TKs) (Step 1: Activity 4). The Tribe may already incorporate TKs in Tribal planning or policy activities, but may not refer to them as “Traditional Knowledges.” Western science uses terms such as Traditional Knowledges and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to describe how long standing generational Tribal knowledges are held, transferred, and applied within a Tribe, and when referring to Indigenous Science. These terms attempt to describe what Tribes already do without the Tribes labeling it as such. Identifying where and how TKs and TEK are already being applied can serve as a base to build on within the Tribe’s climate change adaptation planning process. 

Identify what TKs are already incorporated in the Tribe’s planning process or management systems, that the Tribe may not describe as TKs, but may be relevant to this western definition. Consider looking for things that may not be called TKs that the Tribe already does and that contain a wealth of knowledge that can be useful for climate adaptation planning:

  • Identify TKs that are already collected or stored within the Tribe’s cultural committee;
  • Identify information that may not have been used previously but could now be used (consider adaptations, patterns, ceremonial adjustments, additional foods, etc.); and
  • Identify what TKs are being utilized in ways that are not articulated or written (maintenance, sustainability practices, reciprocity rites, etc).

These TKs can be applied throughout the adaptation planning process as appropriate to help identify concerns (Step 2: Activity 2); gather evidence for observed changes (Step 2: Activity 3); conduct the vulnerability assessment (Step 3); gather adaptation actions, set adaptation goals, prioritize actions (Step 4); and define and monitor success of actions (Step 5).

Consider whether the Tribe needs or desires to collect additional TKs and what methods would be used. Collection methods may include formal or informal processes, or a combination of both, depending on how the Tribe prefers to proceed. Methods can include but are not limited to semi-structured interviews, free form conversation among Elders, talking circles, Tribal events, ceremonies, or other options dictated by the Tribe. Encouraging free form conversation with Elders and other Tribal members can bring up issues and topics of concern Tribal members know but may not be aware they know. Oftentimes it will take time for the depth of TKs to be revealed as it pertains to traditional culture. Each community is different and needs to cooperate to identify traditional aspects that need to be maintained, revitalized, and sustained through climate change adaptation planning.

Tribal Examples

See how two Tribes utilized interviews from Tribal Elders to learn more about experiences and observation of climate change.

Activity 2: Identify and Organize Key Concerns

While all concerns are important, organizing key concerns into planning areas relevant to existing programs and departments can facilitate implementation of adaptation actions.

“This selection of Shared Concerns was not a prioritization of any issue or resource, as all species, resources, and habitats identified by the member tribes are interconnected and important. USRT [Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation] sees an urgent need to assess the climate change vulnerability for ALL Shared Concerns identified by USRT member tribes, perhaps under future funding and vulnerability assessment efforts.”

Guiding Questions

Helpful questions to consider during this activity.

Considerations for integrating and protecting
Traditional Knowledges during this activity.

Climate change is expected to affect the land, water, animals, plants, and the built environment, leading to far reaching impacts on Tribal culture, community health, subsistence, economies, ways of life, and sovereignty. Acknowledging that everything is important, it may be necessary to limit the scope of the adaptation planning process, at least initially, based on available resources and Tribal staff capacity. Over time and with additional resources, the scope may be expanded to include all the potential concerns related to climate change and develop adaptation actions for every potential concern.

Identifying concerns can be done using a variety of approaches with input from the community and the climate change planning team. Approaches to identify concerns may include, but are not limited to:

  • Planning team meetings;
  • Community workshops;
  • Semi-structured interviews with key Tribal staff and Elders;
  • Community surveys distributed through multiple avenues;
  • Community events; and
  • Informal communications.

Organizing concerns around existing programs, departments, or upcoming decisions creates a structure that can facilitate successful implementation of adaptation actions. Grouping concerns in this way allows the climate change planning team and the Tribal community to see the issues they care about—or are responsible for as part of their job duties—reflected in the plan. It also enhances ownership of the eventual development and implementation of adaptation actions. 

Organizing concerns into planning areas creates a framework that helps with the subsequent steps of identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing adaptation actions. Example planning areas include: forestry, fisheries and wildlife, water resources, agriculture and rangelands, cultural resources, energy, housing, transportation, telecommunications, economic development, health, emergency management, and public safety.

There are a variety of ways that concerns can be organized within planning areas (Table 6). For some Tribes, the planning areas are based on different topic areas or sectors (e.g. fisheries management, transportation, human health, and emergency management). Other Tribes have created planning areas around habitats (e.g., grouping all related species of concern by habitat) or by climate impact of concern (e.g., rising sea levels, wildfire risk, and extreme heat). There may be a few concerns that do not neatly fit within a current department or existing program. Those can be considered cross-cutting issues, requiring collaboration across departments or programs in order to accurately assess vulnerability and develop effective adaptation actions.

Table 6. Example Planning Areas

This table lists the planning areas in which key concerns were grouped, as defined by different Tribes.

Upon organizing concerns into planning areas, it may become clear that there are gaps in the expertise of the climate change planning team. This may be an opportunity to add a member with the appropriate expertise to the team (Step 1: Activity 2) or consult with local or regional experts within the Tribe or among external partners (Step 1: Activity 8).

Given the selected planning approach (Step 1: Activity 1) and goals and objectives (Step 1: Activity 3), the climate change planning team, with input from the Tribal community, will sort through the organized concerns and identify a set of key concerns—the natural and built resources, assets, and issues that are most important to the Tribe, have the potential to be affected by climate change, and can be addressed within the scope of available resources and capacity.

Within the climate change planning team, discuss how many concerns can successfully be addressed over the course of the current effort. Keeping the Tribe’s goals for adaptation planning in mind, look for opportunities to mainstream to help identify which concerns to focus on first. For example, if the community is updating a key management plan in the near future and information from the climate assessment could support that updated plan, it may make sense to start with those issues that fit within that management plan.


Community exercises useful in identifying, organizing, and prioritizing concerns.


Tribal Examples

The Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation worked to identify, organize, and select key concerns shared across all four of its member Tribes.

Community Engagement Checkpoint

Working collaboratively with staff, community members, Elders, Tribal leadership, and other partners is a great way to identify the needs and concerns of the community.

Documentation Checkpoint

Document all the identified concerns noting which will be reserved for future work.

Activity 3: Document Observed Changes from Multiple Perspectives

Understanding past climate and environmental changes and how they have affected the key concerns from multiple perspectives can help ground the assessment, enhance community support, and set the stage for assessing future climate-related risks.

“Elder observations indicate that the climate has noticeably changed within their lifetime and as stated prior, the knowledge they gained from parents, grandparents, and great grandparents goes back at least three generations. These first-hand accounts of the impacts of climate change further demonstrate its effect on the Tribes”

Guiding Questions

Helpful questions to consider during this activity.

Considerations for integrating and protecting
Traditional Knowledges during this activity.

Environmental changes are observed and documented through multiple lenses. Traditional Knowledges provide novel and complementary observations that enhance understanding of observed changes documented through Western scientific perspectives. The goal of this activity is to compile a list of observations from multiple perspectives to elucidate the variables and impacts of climate change that are most relevant to monitor for each of the Tribe’s key concerns.

Certain climate change impacts will be more or less important for each key concern. For any given concern, there may be specific climate variables that are particularly vital to the continued health and integrity of that concern. For example, certain fish species, including salmon and steelhead, will be susceptible to changes in streamflow (both lower summer flows and higher winter flows) and increasing water temperatures,[1] while infrastructure will continue to be affected by a variety of climate change related effects, including heavy rainfall and associated flooding or sea level rise and coastal storms.[2] 

There may be more than one climate-related exposure affecting a key concern (e.g., salmon are susceptible to both changing streamflows and stream temperatures). There may also be thresholds that, if crossed, will have a disproportionate impact. For example, warmer water temperatures can negatively affect salmon survival. Water temperatures exceeding 60°F increase the rate of disease and mortality among Chinook salmon.[3]

For each key concern, list climate variables that the concern is sensitive to, making note of particular thresholds. Gather input from climate change planning team members or other Tribal staff or Tribal members with expertise in each key concern. This input can come from staff expertise, Traditional Knowledges (TKs) (Step 2: Activity 1), or Tribal and non-Tribal publications.

Summarizing how conditions have changed in the past—including experiences with recent extreme events—can help determine the vulnerability of key concerns to future changes. This collection of information and analysis may also identify current hazards and risks that the community may not be fully prepared to address or could identify additional concerns to consider. If that is the case, reevaluate the selection of key concerns (Step 2: Activity 2) to decide whether it needs to be amended.

Tribal Examples

Hunters and Elders in the villages of St. Mary’s and Pitka’s Point were interviewed on their observations of climate change in the Lower Yukon River Basin in Alaska.[4]

Collecting information on observed changes could be done by the climate change planning team during a community workshop, or in partnership with an academic or private sector consultant. Valuable sources of information can include: Tribal Elders; Traditional Knowledge holders; Tribal staff; Tribal and non-Tribal monitoring records; archives of interviews, photos, or surveys; and Tribal and non-Tribal publications, data, and reports.


There are a number of resources that include information about observed climate changes.

Up until this point, the framework has focused on the Tribe’s key concerns and identifying how they are influenced or sensitive to climate and environmental change and how they have been changing. Next, consider looking across all key concerns and creating a consolidated table of climate variables, recording which planning areas and key concerns are sensitive to each variable, and how each variable has changed in the past. Step 2: Activity 4 will build off of this table to record how each variable is projected to change in the future.

Community Engagement Checkpoint

Gathering information from the Tribal community on observed changes can help create a holistic understanding of how the Tribe is experiencing climate change. 

Activity 4: Collect Regional and Local Climate Change Projections

Understanding how climate is expected to change in the future informs the vulnerability and risk assessment of key concerns.

“The changes already being seen are substantial, and by the end of the century we will likely be facing unprecedented changes to our natural environment and the economies that depend on it.”

Guiding Questions

Helpful questions to consider during this activity.

Considerations for integrating and protecting
Traditional Knowledges during this activity.

Future changes in climate may not always manifest as a continuation of past changes, particularly as some changes are expected to accelerate in the future without substantial reductions in current greenhouse gas emissions. In this part of the planning process, the climate change planning team (and other partners if appropriate) will collect and summarize relevant future climate projections. This information, combined with the information collected in Step 2: Activity 3, can be used to assess the degree to which each concern is exposed to present and future climate change and will inform the vulnerability and risk assessment process (Step 3).

There is a plethora of climate projections; however, more information and data are not always better. The amount of climate projection information the Tribe gathers is ideally tailored to decisions the Tribe is making. Actionable information is information at a sufficient timescale, resolution, and certainty that it can inform decisions. A summary of climate projections from existing assessment reports may be sufficient for some Tribes, while others may require more localized or customized information. Step 3: Activity 1 describes different approaches Tribes have used to collect the climate exposure information they needed to conduct their vulnerability assessment. 

Guidance on Global Climate Models, Emissions Scenarios, and Time Frames

Climate projections are based on climate models that require a representation of plausible future emissions of greenhouse gasses and a time frame for which future projections are compared. 

Information on expected future climate changes can be found in scientific publications, synthesis and assessment reports, and decision-support and data visualization tools. If available, start with local assessments, moving on to state or regional assessments and summaries, then seeking out information at the federal or national level. Choose a template for recording projected climate information for each variable affecting a key concern from Step 2: Activity 2


Sample template for recording and organizing projected climate change information.

While it is generally good practice to use assessment literature over individual studies, there may be situations in which the Tribe may need to use individual studies. To evaluate the credibility of individual climate change studies, consider the following questions:

  • Are the authors clearly identified as experts?
  • Has the study been peer-reviewed?
  • Do the study’s results make sense?
  • Are the results placed in the context of existing understanding?
  • Is there supporting evidence for the study’s conclusions?
  • Does the study address uncertainty?
  • What are the potential biases?
  • How old is the study?[6]

When gathering and evaluating future climate projection information, collect supplementary information about the data itself, including:

  • The range of climate change that the community could experience;
  • The level of certainty of the information;
  • The methods resulting in a climate change projection (e.g., the climate model or models used), emissions scenarios, timeframe for future projection, timeframe for historical comparison, geographical area, how data was translated or downscaled to local levels);
  • The source publication and year.[7]

The planning team may be able to gather the information if there are team members who are comfortable navigating scientific assessment reports and other resources. However, the planning team may find that more resources or guidance is needed. It could be valuable to partner with a climate science expert or organization that could review the information collected by the planning team and recommend additional resources. Alternatively, a consultant could be hired to synthesize climate projections relevant to the Tribe (Step 1: Activity 8). If additional partners are brought into the process at this point, it will be particularly important to clearly articulate the specific information needed.


See some recommended examples of the many online tools and resources available for accessing future climate projection information. New tools and resources are continually created so it will be beneficial to reach out to a local climate service provider for updated recommendations.

Table 7. Selection of Online Climate Data Tools

There are many online climate data visualization and export tools that can be used to access, visualize, and download figures and summaries of future climate projections.

After compiling available future climate projection information from existing resources for each of the variables identified in Step 2: Activity 3, consider whether there are any gaps in information that the Tribe may need to fill. Compile a list of variables for which more localized or specific information is needed. For example, a detailed spatial analysis of stream habitat suitability for salmonids over the Tribe’s defined geography may be needed in order to effectively implement adaptation actions to promote healthy stream habitat; or localized sea level rise projections combined with historical coastal flooding probabilities may provide the Tribe with the quantitative, probabilistic information needed to make informed coastal planning decisions. Whatever the need may be, clearly articulate what is needed and seek external partners and funding that can supplement the work the climate change planning team has done. In some cases, information needs may be beyond the scope of the current effort or available funding. In these cases, document needs and then look for additional resources or grant programs that can fund that work in the future (Step 1: Activity 7).

Documentation Checkpoint

Synthesize all of the relevant collected information, ensure that it is consistent with the goals of the planning process, and include it in the adaptation plan.