Climate Change and the National Parks System

Climate change is affecting our national parks and if you visit the national parks system. Last week, a group of scientists released a report on climate change and it’s effect on the parks. Climate change affected the parks disproportionately, the report said.

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Picture of brochure I picked up in Alaska. Publication date is October 2016.

When we went on our national parks road trip last year, there was literature on climate change’s effect on the parks at the parks we visited, from Mesa Verde to Glacier. In fact, the effects of climate change in Glacier is very striking. The lobby of Many Glacier hotel are lined with photos of the glaciers going back over 100 years. You can see how much the glaciers have receded in the park. Scientists predict by 2030, there will be no more glaciers at Glacier National park. Years ago, people would hike up to Grinnell Glacier and walk on the glacier. Now, it’s a hike to a view area of the glacier. There’s a pool of icy water in front of it and you can’t walk onto it anymore.

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At the end of Grinnell Glacier trail. Rangers used to take hikers out onto the glacier, now it’s more of a viewing area since you can’t walk out onto it anymore.

When we went to Glacier Bay National Park this summer in Alaska, a ranger talked about climate change. It’s true that glaciers naturally recede and grow, but currently they are receding at a faster rate than they are growing. There are charts that show the park’s glaciers and which glaciers are receding and which are growing. When we went on our boat trip, there was a lady with us that had taken the same trip in 2015. She had photos from that trip. You could see the difference in her photos with the glaciers we saw only three years later. Where once was beautiful blue ice we could see what looked like “dirty” ice and you could see on the sides where rock was beginning to show.

This was not new information. I know climate change is real, but seeing the impacts first hand in such a dramatic way put it all in perspective. Besides the impact this will have on us and our way of life, it’s also sad to look at our parks and realize how we take them for granted. I used to assume they will be there for my children, but now I realize how that may not be true. Or they will be different than how we experience them now. That’s why every hike I take in the parks with my kids is special.

But the ranger talk also sparked my curiosity about the direction of the parks under the current administration. I went up to the ranger asked about the talk. With the current administration’s view on climate change, has there been any pressure to change the talking points. (I’m guessing the displays I read on climate change in summer of 2017 in the parks were from the previous administration. The pamphlet on climate change in the parks was published in 2016).

The ranger told me that the direction from their boss in Alaska was to speak about climate change in very specific ways. So they use a lot of data, charts, etc. to take specifically what’s happening in their parks. It was clear that park staff and scientists wanted to continue to talk to people on the impacts of climate change but were being cautious on how they presented it. I spoke to only one ranger specifically about this but throughout my trips, rangers talked about both conservation in general, as well as climate change.

I hope the rangers keep talking to people about climate change, and I hope people continue to visit the parks. It’s only by knowing what we have to lose, will we have the urgency to try and save it.

 

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