Yellowstone is Changing

In Yellowstone National Park, warming is causing rapid changes throughout the Park.

In the US, Yellowstone in the only place where you can still see buffalo and wolves in great numbers. Without Yellowstone National Park, it’s likely that both of these species would have become extinct by now, especially the wolves. Trumpeter Swans and Grizzly bears also would have found it very hard to survive without the Park.

However, and unfortunately, Yellowstone is changing right in front of our eyes say the rangers and naturalists who work in the Park and see it changing almost every day. And they say the main cause for these changes is our rapidly warming climate.

The Madison River in Montana just North of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone’s naturalists say that, “Since 1948, the average annual temperature in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — an area of 34,375 square miles that includes the park, national forests and Grand Teton National Park — has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers report that winter is, on balance, 10 days shorter and less cold.”

““For the Northern Rockies, snowpack has fallen to its lowest level in eight centuries,” said Patrick Gonzalez, a forest and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.” And snow is probably the most important factor in the parks ecology. The decline of snowpack is thus very alarming to many naturalists and ecologist.

Buffalo along the Yellowstone River in the Park.

Dr Michael Tercek, an ecologist who has worked in Yellowstone for 28 years says that “By the time my daughter is an old woman, the climate will be as different for her as the last ice age seems to us.”

Drier Summers mean less food for grazing. This means that elk leave Yellowstone to forage on private land. And so migration patterns are changing. And where the elk go, the wolves follow. If these patterns continue it is likely that the park will lose much of its wildlife, and this wildlife is less likely to survive outside the park.

Yellowstone Falls

Drier summers also mean that wildfire is a greater threat. And we have all seen what happened in the summer and fall of 2018 in California. Monica Turner of the University of Wisconsin says that, “As the climate is warming, we are getting fires that are happening more often. We are starting to have the young forests burn again before they have had a chance to recover.”

And then there are the pine beetles which thrive in warmer winters and are making huge inroads in the park, already killing millions and millions of trees. And dead trees are just that much more tinder for wildfires.

Frosty autumn leaves and grasses in Yellowstone.
Wet baby elk along the madison river on a rainy day in Yellowstone.

And the same story is true in all of our great national parks. I’m afraid that if you want to see our National Parks as they have been for the past thousands of years, you had better hurry.

I got most of the information for this article in a New York Times article dated Nov 15, 2018.

A link to this article is embedded in the blurb below.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/15/climate/yellowstone-global-warming.html

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