Studies find climate change jeopardizing national parks

Two new studies say global warming is threatening national parks in the West and Midwest, including the nation’s oldest park, Yellowstone.

Ecologists say climate change in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will increase the frequency of wildfires and alter the composition of the forests by 2050, US News reports. Using historic fire data to project future conditions, the researchers found that years with no major fires, which are common historically, become rare approaching 2050 and almost non-existent between 2050 and 2099.

One uncertainty is how increased fire frequency might change the forests in the area, which now are predominantly lodgepole pine. Some areas might become forests of other trees, or permanent grasslands.

“The forest has been stable for thousands of years, but it looks like it will face changes by 2050,” said Erica A. H. Smithwick, assistant professor of geography and ecology in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and principle investigator on the project

The ecosystem is centered around Yellowstone National Park but encompasses about 20 million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and includes Grand Teton National Park, many national forests and a small amount of private land.

Another report warns that climate change could have a profound effect on parks ringing the Great Lakes, Devon Boen says at Miller-McCune. The study by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and National Resource Defense Council predicts, for example, that there would less ice cover over the lakes in the winter. This could lead to an increase of winter waves that would erode shorelines and damage natural features like the dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. Warmer temperatures also could change the mix of plants and animals in the parks.