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Climate Change Impacting Iconic Parks


    About a year ago I wrote a story for Wyoming Wildlife magazine about mountain pine beetles -- rice-grain-sized insects that invade lodgepole pine forests during times of stress and kill the trees, one by one.
    In gathering information for the story, I learned that a warming climate is helping the bugs, as the higher temperatures add stress to forests, enable the beetles to live through winters that in the past were so brutally cold the insects were killed, and also enable the bugs to move through their life cycles more quickly. In effect, they go through a life cycle in one, not two years, which means more insects to attack the trees.
    Another impact of climate change is that the beetles are moving higher in elevation than before and are reaching stands of whitebark pine trees, which have no defense against the beetles. Whitebark pines, by the way, produce pine nuts that grizzlies rely on for a protein boost going into winter. Wipe out the whitebark pines and you remove a key food from the grizzlies' diet.
    Well, a report just out this week warns how climate change is harming parks such as Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton.

    The report was issued by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In it, the groups contend that the warming climate is melting glaciers and perennial snowfields in Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and Rocky Mountain national parks. Too, the higher temps also are impacting wild flowers and even fisheries. And, as I learned a year ago, also whitebark pine trees.
    Stephen Saunders, who works with the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, says the National Park Service needs to be sounding the alarm over what climate change is doing to the parks.
    “The National Park Service has clear statutory mandates to protect parks, and these parks are in danger,” he told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “One of the things that they [Park Service personnel] can do is speak out about the dangers.”
    You can read the rest of the story here. You can find the unfiltered report here. The lefthand column has links to specific sections on heat, snow, water, wildlife, drought, wild fire and economic impacts.
    Back in March I posted a story, with photos, about Glacier's retreating glaciers and how climate change is behind their retreat. The post also noted an effort to have the World Heritage Committee declare Glacier a World Heritage Site "in danger" because of climate change.
    The Bush administration opposes such a designation, saying climate change is too complicated to truly understand the underlying causes and that, anyway, it would be too hard to reverse to preserve the park's glaciers.
    Any day now we should be hearing what the World Heritage Committee decided to do. It no doubt will be a controversial decision no matter which way it goes.

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