Climate Change: What Implications Does it Carry for the Parks?

Melting in Glacier Bay National Park; NPS Photo, Rosemarie Salazar photographer.

Melting in Glacier Bay National Park; NPS Photo, Rosemarie Salazar photographer.

Whether you believe in climate change or global warming doesn't really matter these days. Our climate is undergoing some significant change.

Evidence exists in melting icecaps, unusually potent storms, droughts, shifting seasons, and warming temperatures in general. Even if some of this change is natural, which is debatable, there is mounting evidence that human activity is a key driver in climate change. And, frankly, it wouldn't hurt for us all to strive to have less of an impact on the environment.

How global warming is affecting our national parks is a question that the National Parks Conservation Association explores in a special report.

Unnatural Disaster: Global Warming and Our National Parks not only sorts through a variety of answers to that question by pointing to on-the-ground trends being driven by the changing climate, but offers 10 straightforward suggestions that just might help the park system, and the rest of the world, cope with the changes.

Do you have to view the 48-page report as gospel? Not at all. But after you sift through it and look at what's going on in the parks, well, you just might agree that something is going on and it just might be prudent to address it.

Here are some of the changes NPCA believes are possible if nothing is done about climate change:

In Alaska, climate change could impact salmon fisheries such as those that surround Katmai National Park and Preserve. In California, warmer, drier weather not only could heighten the wildfire season in Yosemite, but it also could lead to greater insect damage to the forests and increase ground-level ozone problems in Sequoia.

In the East, droughts and warmer streams could decimate Shenandoah's trout fisheries, while the Blue Ridge Parkway could have to endure more air-quality problems stemming from higher ozone levels. Great Smoky Mountains might see its old-growth deciduous forests, great stands of hemlocks and Fraser fir, impacted by more ozone and insects. Rising sea levels could inundate Everglades National Park and Colonial Jamestown, while both Biscayne and Dry Tortugas could lose their coral reefs and sport fishing to warmer oceans.

Additionally, as we've noted before, Glacier's namesake rivers of ice are threatened by climate change, as are whitebark pine trees, which produce a nutritious nut that some grizzlies in Yellowstone and Grand Teton gorge themselves on in the fall. Just last week Yellowstone officials urged anglers to give the park's renowned trout fisheries a break during the hottest period of the day, as the rivers' temperatures were soaring and making life tough for the fish.

Here, via NPCA, is some of the evidence of global warming:

* Over the past century, the average temperature on Earth has risen 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and 11 of the last dozen years rank among the hottest on record since 1850.

* Green-house gas concentrations in the atmosphere are 70 percent higher than pre-industrial days.

* Sea levels are rising faster than they have over the past 2,000 years.

* Birds are altering their migration patterns, trees are leafing out earlier than usual, cold spells that once kept boring insects in check are no longer cold enough or long enough to do the job.

The changing climate figures to have long-lasting impacts, and not only to the environment. Biscayne National Park, for instance, generates nearly $24 million a year for the surround economies thanks to divers and snorkelers, according to NPCA. Can you imagine what would happen to those local economies if the colorful coral reefs that lure the divers and snorkelers died?

The Park Service doesn't question climate change, and has been studying ways to combat it. One approach has been to get the parks to be more "climate friendly."

"Although the situation seems dire, we can still halt the most severe effects of global warming if we take action now," says Tom Kiernan, NPCA's president. "The centennial anniversary of the national park system in 2016 provides sufficient time and a symbolically important deadline in which to act.

"Federal, state and local governments, along with individuals, can take actions within that timeframe that will slow and in some cases halt the damage," he adds. "Over the next time years, the national parks offer a unique opportunity to draw attention to America's priceless resources at risk, and to showcase opportunities to act to protect them."

So what's to be done? Well, the NPCA would like to see the following 10 steps implemented:

* Cap and reduce power plant emissions.

* Increase fuel efficiencies for the cars and trucks we drive.

* Develop more clean sources of energy.

* Boost funding for the National Park Service so the agency not only can stay atop maintenance needs but also "be at the forefront of research on the effects of climate change..."

* Expand the Climate Friendly Parks Program.

* Get states and local governments closely involved with battling climate change. It can be done. Look at what California is doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how mid-Atlantic and New England states are working to cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

* Help the parks adapt to climate change by building buffers around parks to prevent them from becoming islands surrounded by heat-storing urban areas.

* Work internationally to combat climate change. "The president must engage with our international partners to put in place meaningful and enforceable agreements for reducing greenhouse gases to a safe level."

* Invest in climate-friendly technologies, such as hydrogen-powered autos and zero emission power plants.

* Convince folks like you and me to join the effort by considering hybrid vehicles -- (although there are growing questions over how much they're helping) --, buying energy efficient appliances, driving less, and even turning off lights.

To those suggestions I'd add at least one more: let your congress-folk know climate change is an important issue that you want addressed. No doubt there are additional ways we can contribute to a cleaner environment -- recycling, stop buying bottled water, and carpooling are some examples -- but the key is that we do something.

"We have less than a decade remaining before the national park system's centennial," says Mr. Kiernan. "To make progress in protecting parks from global warming, we must now put into action a plan to protect national parks. That is our centennial challenge."

Comments

From are abuses to the earth's environment...it's payback time...nature bats last!

Old growth giant sequoias receive most moisture through snow melt. If the snow pack in the Sierra Nevadas continues to decrease as scientists predict, old growth sequoias may cease to exist. Their species will continue around the world, but humans in the coming centuries, may not be able to visit 3000-year-old trees. I can't say that I have much hope on the global warming front, especially given the International Panel on Climate Change's recent findings.

Cmon now...we still know so little about the dynamic system that is our global climate....
So what caused "global warming" before the last ice age? Cars?
Our global climate has for the history of the planet changed many times in both directions...what we are going thru now is a natual uptick in temperatures...it could just as easily head the other direction tomorrow...next week...next year, and WE have no control whatsoever over it.
Any of you who are old enuf to remember, scientists were sounding the alarm over "Global Cooling" back in the 70s...we were all gonna FREEZE to death!
As far as the Sequoias go, they have tolerated much...if they die off, other species will replace them...don't get all sick with worry.
"Acid rain", the "population bomb"...I don't know if I have enuf fear left in me...

Roger Renault
PhD
Climatology

Mr. Renault, I assume you refute NASA's indepth and extremely conscientious work on global warming...especially the brilliant work done by Dr. Jensen at NASA (remember how the goverment tried to stifle his work). It appears since Al Gore's successful documentary on global warming: An Inconvenient Truth, the heavy hitters for the polluting industries are desperately trying to label his film as bogus science. Nonsense, the worlds leading climatologist (and most) agree with Mr. Gore's assessment of global warming. Your probably one of the very few that disagrees, and most likely works for a company that pays you well to say the opposite...just like the tobacco companies. Public opinion will not be swayed by the oil companies, the utility companies, and the mining companies to think differently, despite the millions of dollars to distort the real truth about global warming. I agree, we have no control over the climate, but we have control over are heavy consumptious life stlye...not more this and more that. But less is better!? Agree? Besides, what's wrong in taking are foot off the gas pedal a little bit so that we ALL can breathe better.

Snowbird:
You sound as if you might live in a cave...you must not "consume" anything! Wow...
The PhD never said that the planet is not warming, he just disputes that humans have anything or much to do with it (or can do about it), and I agree. If you follow the money, the alarmists have just as much to gain monetarily as the so-called "consumptive" industries...check and see what Algore is making off his speeches!...and doesn't he use a lot of petrol to fly around the country and world to spew his convenient (convenient to fill his coffers) lies?
Sure, we are all better off with less pollution, but keep in mind that volcano and even Yellowstone hot springs and vents alone discharge FAR more polluting gasses 24 hours a day than we humans do...also keep in mind that we are not separate from the ecosystem, we are part of it...everthing is connected.
The American public is slowly starting to see what a hoax (only meant to reduce our economy to third-world status) all this alarmism is, thanks to scientists like Mr. Renault who have no stake in this issue.

Ruth, read between the lines what so called PhD is advocating...consume...consume until your hearts delight. I'm not alarmist, nor do I live in a cave like FOX NEWS would like to peg us who truly believe that Al Gore is on to something that is rational and potentially forthcoming in disaster. What's your beef? When Dr. Jensen from NASA speaks on global warming he dosen't appear to be a alarmist, but speaks quiet candidly on some rather convincing evidence that global warming is man induced...and I don't think he lives in a cave. This third world BS on the economy, is another example of the scare tactics by the right wing bloggers and right wind frantics. Your quote, "sure, we are all better off with less pollution"...well, let's really do something about it, and keep informing the American public that less carbon use is better for the environment. Did you ever check the rates of respiratory diseases in Los Angeles lately, especially among the young childeran and the elderly...there alarming high...now that's something to be deeply concerned about. Agree!? Yes, were all inter-connected to the environment but in the most unhealthy way...just take a real look Ruth instead of being an ostrich with your head buried in a right wing sand hole.

Mr. Repanshek states that the rising temperatures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton are affecting the lifestyles and possibly the quality of life among the parks' wildlife. If the many scientists who say that the earth is millions of years older than humanity are to be believed however, thousands of species evolved and became extinct long before Homo Sapiens was ever thought of. Every ice age and following warmer period has forced animals and plants out of areas that they had lived in for centuries. It is the hight of arrogance to think that simply because we are now on the scene, habitat change and/or extinction must be stopped. (Don't get me wrong, I don't think that this gives us the right to be irresponsible by killing animals unnecessarily, or developing every acre in sight.)

RIGHT ON Re'bekah and Roger!!!
Pretty arrogant to think that we have much impact on global climate...there have been MANY warming and cooling periods before we got here!!
Too much Algore disease goin' around...hot air (lol).