LAND LOSS RATES FOR INDIGENOUS TRIBAL LANDS IN SOUTHERN LOUISIANA ARE HIGHER THAN OVERALL REGIONAL RATES
Unsupervised classifications of 1987 Landsat 5 and 2020 Sentinel 5 data (using bands 2, 6 and 11 for 2020, and bands 4 and 5 for 1987) were effective in distinguishing land from water. Heavily turbid bayous and wetlands are notoriously difficult to classify in GIS, so we also defined a "mixed water" category. The control area, from which we determined average regional land loss, was approximately 3272 km2 of southeastern Terrebonne Parish, and included the three tribal areas.
For the control area, land decreased from 64% to 50% over the 33 years: a 14% overall loss, or 0.4% per year on average. The tribal areas, in contrast, all showed higher rates. The GCD area lost 31% of the land to open water, PaC lost 17%, and IdJC lost 25%. These correspond to annual land-loss rates of 0.6% to 1.0% per year. In particular, GCD and IdJC have lost land at rates more than twice the regional background.
The roots of this problem lie in 19th century removals that drove indigenous peoples to vulnerable lands at the southern limits of the delta. Now, in the 21st century, these peoples suffer disproportionate impacts from ongoing subsidence and sea-level rise. The land-loss-forced resettlement of the IdJC community, considered America's first climate refugees, is a particularly strong example. And futures of Louisiana's other tribal communities in the southern delta are similarly unsafe. Ongoing work will include these groups, and will also generate more detailed land-loss rate profiles for each tribal area. Ultimately we aim to provide data that will help these marginalized peoples as they struggle to have their plight recognized.