Eliza Ghitis has served as the climate change scientist for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) since 2013 and has participated in the NW CASC Stakeholder Advisory Committee since that time. In her role, Eliza supports the twenty member tribes of the Fisheries Commission in evaluating and responding to the consequences of climate change for treaty-protected natural resources such as fish, shellfish, wildlife and terrestrial plants. Eliza has a background in geomorphology, specializing in the interactions between physical and biological processes. Her previous work in the non-profit and environmental consulting worlds centered on geomorphic assessment and the design of process-based environmental restoration projects in freshwater, estuarine and coastal settings.
What led you to work in the field of climate adaptation?
I was working on environmental restoration projects and was struck repeatedly by questions of how these efforts would function as conditions changed, and more generally, what I was doing about climate change. While the restoration of ecological function and structure increases the resilience of natural systems, directly addressing climate change is critical to long-term environmental sustainability.
What does your day-to-day work look like?
My work is dynamic, and every day is different. I provide technical support to the member tribes of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. I also coordinate the Commission’s Tribal Climate Change Forum, a working group of tribal staff representing the member tribes, the Point No Point Treaty Council and the Skagit River System Cooperative. Our purpose is to share information, identify opportunities for intertribal collaboration and pursue strategies for improving tribal technical capacity. I help develop partnerships between the tribes and scientists at regional research groups and agencies. I also provide climate policy support when the need arises.
How does your organization support climate resilience in the Northwest?
All the arenas in which the Fisheries Commission works are affected by climate change, either directly or indirectly. The work we do supports the resilience of the species important to tribes and the ecosystems that they rely upon. The Commission is a natural resources management support service organization that was created following the 1974 U.S. v. Washington ruling (known as the Boldt Decision) that reaffirmed the tribes’ treaty-reserved fishing rights. The ruling recognized tribes as natural resources co-managers with the State of Washington with an equal share of the harvestable number of salmon returning annually. The Fisheries Commission member tribes are Lummi, Nooksack, Swinomish, Upper Skagit, Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, Tulalip, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Skokomish, Suquamish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Makah, Quileute, Quinault and Hoh.
What is your favorite thing about your work?
I have learned so much from the outstanding tribal scientists, staff, leaders and community members. There is still a great deal more for me to learn from the tribes’ deep knowledge of their lands and waters and from tribal values of stewardship, inter-relationship and respect for all beings. Working with tribal communities has been a humbling, illuminating and inspiring experience.