You are here

GAO: Interior Failed to Provide Park Service With Tools To Cope With Climate Change


This photo shows how much the Chaney Glacier in Glacier National Park has retreated since 1850. USGS photo.

Folks for some time have realized that there's something unusual going on with the climate, and whether you believe it's human-caused or naturally cyclical is besides the point. What's key is how we react to it. And the federal Government Accountability Office says the Interior Department has failed to adequately help the National Park Service react to those changes.

In a report issued this week the GAO says agencies need to develop guidelines for addressing the effects the changing climate is having on flora and fauna. Here's a snippet from the new report:

Climate change has already begun to adversely affect federal resources in a variety of ways. Most experts with whom we spoke believe that these effects will continue—and likely intensify—over the coming decades. Some federal resources, depending on a variety of factors, may be more vulnerable than others. Because this issue is long term, global, and may affect federal resources in a number of ways, it will require foresight on the part of federal agencies to prepare for and minimize the adverse effects of climate change. However, federal resource management agencies have not yet made climate change a high priority. BLM, FS, FWS, NOAA, and NPS are generally authorized, but not specifically required, to address changes in resource conditions resulting from climate change in either their resource management actions or planning efforts.

However, none of these agencies have specific guidance in place advising their managers how to address the effects of climate change in either their resource management actions or planning efforts. The resource managers with whom we spoke stated that in the absence of such guidance, they are unsure whether or how to take the effects of climate change into account when carrying out their responsibilities.

Such uncertainty may, as unanticipated circumstances arise, force resource managers to set their own priorities, which may be inconsistent with those of the agencies’ management and may result in misdirected efforts and wasted resources. Because there is growing evidence that climate change is likely to have wide-ranging consequences for the nation’s land and water resources, elevating the importance of the issue in their respective strategies and plans would enable BLM, FS, FWS, NOAA, and NPS to provide effective long-term stewardship of the resources under their purview.

The administration, of course, contends it has provided plenty of resources to the agencies. "The president has provided unparalleled financial investments for dozens of federal climate change programs, many of which are directed at adaptation and developing and deploying cleaner, more efficient energy technologies," says Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

According to the GAO report, climate change could have drastic impacts on national parks. For instance, its report points to the "(p)otential loss of national parks and forests with named features/species: for example, Glacier National Park (with no glaciers), Saguaro National Monument (with no saguaro cacti), Joshua Tree National Park (with no Joshua trees), and Tallgrass Prairie Reserve (with no tallgrasses)."

The report also questions the future of keystone species on public lands.

A species shift could have social ramifications, since park visitors value the experience of seeing species within the park. In some cases, federal land acquisition has been motivated by the presence of particular species, which may migrate to unprotected areas...

Climate change could impact other, less familiar, species as well.

An FWS fish biologist who studies and provides expertise on certain resources in Glacier National Park told us about a park species, the bull trout, that is at particular risk from climate change. The bull trout, listed as a threatened species under the ESA, is native to the western United States. It migrates in the spring from lakes and streams, such as Flathead Lake up the Flathead River system near the park, where it spawns in the fall in tributaries as far as 150 miles upstream. This fish is very sensitive to water temperature and clarity. Its spawning temperature range is 6 to 10 degrees Celsius (43 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit), and its young-rearing temperature range is below 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit). It is found in only the coldest streams. If temperatures increase, streams may become intolerable for the bull trout. In addition, if isolated glaciers disappear due to temperature increase, the mountain streams the glaciers feed may dry up late in the season, further reducing habitat. Therefore, the bull trout can only survive in a very limited area, and many of its migration corridors have been cut off as a result of ecosystem fragmentation

Despite the outward bleakness of this report, I think some progress is being made. Could more have been made? The GAO certainly thinks so. Here's a snippet from an Associated Press story on the GAO report:

The GAO said the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce departments have failed to give their resource managers the guidance and tools they need — computer models, temperature and precipitation data, climate projects and detailed inventories of plant and animal species — to cope with all the biological and physical effects from the warming.

"Without such guidance, their ability to address climate change and effectively manage resources is constrained," the report says.

At the Interior Department, officials pointed out to the GAO investigators that earlier this year Secretary Dirk Kempthorne had appointed a task force to look into climate change. That task force is, among other things, "examining how possible climate changes would affect disaster management, water resource management, and wildlife habitat management. It is evaluating new responses to manage our changing landscapes.

And over at the National Parks Conservation Association, the organization has been studying the problems climate change poses for the parks and earlier this summer issued a report, Unnatural Disaster: Global Warming and Our National Parks that offers some actions that can be taken today to ease the impacts. I discussed this report back in July.

The question now is whether Congress and the administration will pay attention to the GAO findings. You can find the report here.


This article is almost insane. The total amount of "could's", "might's" and "may's" in each paragraph tells me that conditions could or might not get serious. But the one thing I do know...almost every time humans try to control a natural environment, the effects are usually worse than if the condition was left alone. I'm not saying we shouldn't plan for adverse effects of global warming but we have to also look at this in a different light. Nature is a hugely powerful thing and we don't really don't understand how it is connected and interacts with changes.

I'm sure there will be plenty of folks that will say we have a great understanding of how nature reacts to change. The only thing I will say is take a long look at history and you'll understand that the science of natural order will always find a way to surprise us.

The aren't any scientists at ANY level, academic or governmental, who have a solid enough foundation regarding this topic that qualifies them to redirect environmental issues, that if incorrectly altered, could have the same effect on our species as the misguided mountain lion hunts of the early 20th C did on the mule deer population on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I guess only the Rev. Al Gore is all-knowing enough to tell us how to effectively respond to the changes in world environment without causing any additional damage......he and his team of celebrity energy wasters telling me, a degreed molecular biochemist how to fix the world! There are only a few known pieces of evidence pertinent to this issue. Most importantly, we have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA, given the lack of historical data that are available for collection and proper dissemination, if this change is truly representative of a cycle, a unique event, or a true shift / change in the OVERALL conditions that have existed for THOUSANDS of generations. It should be common knowledge that the earth's environmental conditions have followed this "wave" pattern, not a flat-line, for the span of it's existence. The events that relate directly to the shifts in these cycles are simply NOT understood, only unsubstantiated and under-studied hypothesis are known, and none of them have garnered enough solid data that would lend credence to support any particular theory as to the overall direction in which we are currently headed. In it's infancy, when anaerobic atmospheric conditions ceased and when the planet was indeed MUCH warmer than it presently stands, and the land mass was whole, world-wide (as it were for the period) tropical conditions existed on most every inch of land. Carbon dioxide (and methane, the real culprit in the warming process) emissions were at levels estimated to be relative, although obviously not equivilent to where they currently stand. Yet, the planet gradually cooled, mammals evolved, and we progressed(?) to the mess in which we currently reside. Hypothetically, the planet should have overheated millions of years ago under just such conditions as outlined, albeit very superficially, above would indicate. But here we stand debating what to do that will correct the current allegedly man-made situation.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are NOT the major issue that needs to be addressed, in terms of the oxidation / reduction theory specific to the ozone molecule. And for the sake of our environment, PLEASE stop attending the First United Church of Gore and do a bit of independent investigative research on your own, or better yet, with some guidance from a credible chemist (any junior college or higher level instructor would suffice) in order to have as solid a foundation for grasping the true nature of the issues in these changing times. Bad sources of information lead to bad choices; don't let yours be among them.

Lone Hiker, I assume you have not read any of Dr. Hanson's research work at NASA on global warming. If you did, perhaps you might think twice before blogging your complete distortion of the facts what causes global warming. Corporate America could use you as there poster child to enhace their agenda that rape and pillage is good for the atmosphere. I guess the religious right wing shake there booties every time Al Gore speaks the truth for a cleaner world. Remembering the tobacco industry and there pack of lies that cigarette's are not harmful to your health, it's the same line that corporate America sheds: disinformation, misinformation, bad information and no information on accurate research on global warming...and you Lone Hiker help to follow such distorted most Americans that doesn't fly!

I do not represent ANY faction of government, thank you. I am most familiar with Dr. Hanson's interpretation of his data, and that is indeed all they are, his interpretations. My sources and opinions are based in the chemistry of the reduction process by while ozone is converted to O2 and O, or how the O3 molecule is split, which is the ONLY process that really matters. Of all the self-serving entities you had to align yourself with, NASA? I do hope that you realize that there are billions of research dollars at stake with that organization, and they are proponents of any and all matters that they conveniently utilize as "hot button" issues to sway public sympathy and boost their lobbying initiatives. It most circles, it is accepted that a sole source of information qualifies as disinformation. That is precisely why, in the sciences, we use controls as the baseline for data dissemination. Unless you have KNOWN entities in experimentation that lend to KNOWN and accepted results, further experimental data interpretation isn't worth the paper it's printed on. The adage "figures don't lie, liars figure" pertains to any group who base opinions on a sole data set, whether they be pollsters, scientists, economists, etc. I don't dispute that there are changes in the environment, but I do strongly dispute any conclusion drawn from minimal evidence. And to date, there simply haven't been the proper experimental processes concluded that would lend credence to EITHER side of this arguement. All that is certain is that a trend is developing, but even your so-called "experts" cannot agree on a genesis for this change. What I am suggesting is that continual monitoring be maintained, processes expanded, and evidence collected PRIOR to making any changes that may further destory an already fragile ecosystem.

Lone Hiker, all this techical jargon that you sprew out isn't only confusing the general public, but is in part of the bogus science that you represent. When in general, most world climatologist will agree that global warming is man induced...can we agree on that!? If not, show we where I'm wrong. Please! Why sit on are fat consuming butts and let the Bush Administration pacify us with more worthless studies from their industrial cohorts, and with their continous stall tactics not to further the goal for a cleaner environment. Action is needed now and most world leaders support that noble goal...not the Bush Administration! Why??

If I maybe so bold....

Before you start berating people for listening to

bad sources of information

, please consider the following:

1. I will never be able to see the glaciers of Glacier National Park, the famed snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or any number of other threatened resources because by the time I can afford to travel to see these sights, they will be gone - thanks to humans or 'nature's cycles'. Period. The chance to see these things will be taken away from me forever. There is no going back. Why? Because the people in power refused to act when they had the chance. Thanks, guys.

2. You people (yes, I mean YOU PEOPLE) out there who disregard global warming are the people who are in power today, and will die soon, to be blunt. It is MY generation and MY future that will be most affected by climate change, and it is MY future you are screwing around with.

3. Regardless of whether or not climate change is caused by humans, by not doing anything, those people who sit idle are taking away my chance at living in a stable world. I do not, and will not accept this. I alone will determine my future.

And in case you haven't noticed, we're [students are] doing a whole heck of a lot more to deal with it than anyone else. The high school and college students of America are taking our future into our own hands, and out of those who do nothing but dither and squabble. The Sierra Student Coalition registered over 70 victories this past school year on college campuses in the Climate Campus Challenge, with 13 colleges signing on the become carbon neutral. And the momentum keeps building - Towson University agreed to become carbon neutral just this past week, and the start of November will bring thousands of students together for PowerShift 2007 - the 1st ever international student conference on climate change.

What have the politicians done? Ummmm - nothing.

Oh, wait - they have talked. That always helps.

"Good Planets are Hard to Find"
President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens
Member, Sierra Student Coalition Conservation Committee Subcommittee for Campaigns and Materials

jr._ranger, your comments tonight made my day!

If I may so bold...

No one is talking about the NPS taking action to reverse climate change -- just learning how to deal with it and to take action. The reason for the climate change doesn't really matter. Important questions like "Is the intensity of storms going so silt up this river and lake long before we expected it to?" or "Will this reservoir have the water in it to supply southern california with its water needs 100 years from now?" or "Does it make sense to build a new Jazz Site in New Orleans if we're expecting more frequent hurricanes of higher intensity?" or any number of questions that might be asked and considered for the future. The US military makes all sorts of contingency plans -- most of which never come to fruition. Why shouldn't the Department of Interior help NPS to do the same? It goes way beyond needing to rename a park.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide