Climate Change and National Parks
DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,
ON CLIMATE CHANGE IN NATIONAL PARKS
OCTOBER 28, 2009
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on the impacts of climate change to National Parks.
For nearly a century, the National Park Service (NPS) has been charged with managing the parks within the breadth and complexity of our mission as mandated by the Organic Act of 1916.While the NPS has faced daunting challenges to effective natural and cultural resource management since its inception, park managers are currently facing an increasing array of dynamic issues and unprecedented challenges, more than any encountered in the history of the National Park System.Climate change is our newest, greatest challenge to maintaining
Secretary Salazar has prioritized the issue of climate change within the Department of the Interior (DOI).Secretarial Order No. 3289 of September 14, 2009, established a climate change strategy to integrate the work of each DOI bureau to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change in the pursuit of their respective missions.Recently, DOI met with Congressional staff to describe this new approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.
The NPS Climate Change Strategy will complement the Secretarial Order.We are holding scenario planning workshops, assessing the vulnerability of facilities and cultural and natural resources, acquiring data and implementing a climate friendly parks program.Our climate change response steering committee is developing a strategic plan that will be presented to me and my NPS National Leadership Council.This plan will include action items for responding to the Secretarial Order and will focus on collaboration at the regional and landscape level to develop scientific information and adaptation strategies; mitigate greenhouse gases; incorporate climate change into park planning processes; and communicate internally and with the public about climate change issues.
The National Park Service Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units,
Since implementation of the Natural Resource Challenge nearly a decade ago, the NPS has been increasing its science capacity and the professional expertise of natural resource managers.However, there is still much to be done.Earlier this month, I announced the appointment of our first ever science advisor to the director.This new and important position will help build on existing NPS science programs and advance the role of science within our bureau as we meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
DOI and NPS are rising to this challenge, and today my testimony will focus on our observations of the effects and potential future changes related to climate change in national park units.I will also discuss the NPS actions and programs underway that will prepare us for the current and anticipated impacts from climate change.
The Effects of Climate Change in National Park Units
In October 2009, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resource Defense Council published a report entitled National Parks in Peril. The Threats of Climate Disruption.The report cited human disruption of climate as the "greatest threat ever to our national parks" and identified eleven types of risks our parks are facing.These risks include loss of ice and snow; loss of water; higher seas and stronger coastal storms; more downpours and flooding; loss of plant communities; loss of wildlife; loss of historical and cultural resources; intolerable heat; loss of fishing; and more air pollution.This report shows broad public concern over the impacts of climate change to parks.
We have documented accelerated melting of mountain glaciers in national parks such as Glacier and North Cascades, disappearance of perennial snowfields in Alaska parks, reduced snowpacks and changes in the timing and amount of stream flow that affect terrestrial and aquatic communities in mountain parks.These impacts not only affect recreational opportunities including cross-country skiing and fishing, but the very species that depend upon winter snow and icepacks such as the ice worm, wolverine, and lynx.
Alaskan parks are seeing some of the earliest impacts of possible climate change – melting sea ice threatens marine mammals as well as coastal communities, thawing permafrost destabilizes buildings, roads, and other facilities.Parks such as Yosemite and
Coastal parks are a central concern.The NPS manages 74 coastal units encompassing more than 5,100 miles of coast and three million acres of submerged resources including beaches, wetlands, estuaries, coral reefs, and kelp forests.These parks attract more than 75 million visitors every year, and generate over $2.5 billion in economic benefits to local communities.The U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.1 on Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise (2009) states:
Critical coastal ecosystems such as wetlands, estuaries, and coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Such ecosystems are among the most biologically productive environments in the world.
Park coastal ecosystems are significant habitats for the production and health of recreationally and commercially valuable fish and shellfish; they provide important ecosystem services, and offer beautiful landscapes for marine recreation and wildlife watching.The
NPS data indicate that fire ignitions are occurring both earlier and later in the season now and the average duration of time that a wildfire burns has increased from less than 10 days to more than a month.Fires in some places may be increasing in both frequency and intensity, changing native plant and animal communities and contributing to the spread of invasive exotic species (Westerling et al. 2006).Wildland fire frequency and intensity also are impacting cultural resources, as hotter fires and our efforts to fight them directly damage both surficial and buried archeological sites.
Because the amount of precipitation stored as snowpack is expected to decrease and annual snowmelt is expected to commence earlier in the spring in mountain states such as
While some impacts from climate change are already measurable, the long-range effects of climate disruption on park natural and cultural resources, developed infrastructure, and visitor experience are just beginning to be understood.The management implications for protecting species, biological communities, and physical resources within finite land management boundaries in a rapidly changing climate are complex and without precedent.
Cultural resources are also expected to be significantly affected by climate change.For example, rising water levels are already damaging archeological sites, historic structures, and cultural landscapes such as
The focus of the climate change discussion has largely shifted from the evidence that climate change is occurring to what we can do about it. As stewards of our nation's natural and cultural heritage, we have an obligation to act now.
Current Climate Change Actions and Programs
To effectively respond to climate change challenges to parks, NPS is working with DOI to undertake a collective and coordinated strategy that builds upon and expands existing partnerships such as those between NPS, other bureaus, and non-governmental stakeholders.Building the capacity to respond to climate change will involve identifying, linking, prioritizing, and implementing a range of short and long-term activities.NPS's ability to work cooperatively with other federal agencies, states, local agencies and the public to address the cumulative impacts of climate change on park natural resources was greatly improved with the passage of section 301 of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, which authorizes NPS to spend appropriated funds cooperatively on work conducted outside park boundaries for the purpose of protecting park natural resources.
The NPS now is developing a strategic framework for action that will detail short and long-term actions in three major areas: mitigation, adaptation, and communication.The framework will address park, regional and national-level needs and concerns by incorporating actions to address the core elements associated with proactive climate change impact management – Legal and Policy; Planning; Science; Resource Stewardship; Greenhouse Gas Emission and Sustainable Operations; and Communication.
Some of our key actions to date include:
·Initiating the Climate Friendly Parks Program in 2003 in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency.The program promotes sustainable operations in parks and creates park climate action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.It now involves almost 60 parks.
·Utilizing Environmental Management System Plans to track and reduce park environmental impacts and set targets for sustainable park operations.
·Hosting or participating in a series of regional and interagency workshops to explore climate change impacts and coping strategies over the past three years.
·Adopting an Ocean Park Stewardship Action Plan in 2006 to guide actions to address ocean-related climate change impacts.
·Forming a service-wide Climate Change Response Steering Committee to foster communications, provide recommendations, and serve as an advisory body to NPS leadership.
Successful park approaches to mitigating climate change impacts require the very best science, including physical, biological, social, and cultural disciplines.Since 1999, NPS has used strategically placed Research Learning Centers throughout the country, in addition to the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESU) Network to collaborate with leading research institutions, including universities, NGOs and State and federal partners, to provide the necessary science for informing sustainable adaptive management of park resources.The 17 CESUs in the network cover all regions of the country, with a total of 250 partners including 13 federal agencies.The program has been highly successful in producing cutting edge collaborative research and providing technical assistance and capacity building for the NPS, State and local agencies, and other federal and non-governmental partners.
Looking to the Future—Mitigation, Adaptation, Communication
While efforts to date are significant, much work lies ahead to address climate change impacts on park resources and visitor enjoyment and to respond strategically to those impacts in ways that are compatible with park purposes and values.Our actions will necessarily involve strong intra- and interagency cooperation and leadership to build on collective knowledge and to create new solutions for protecting resources and resource values and providing for appropriate enjoyment.
Mitigation—Leading by Example
In the area of mitigation, the NPS is leading by example by reducing park carbon footprints and promoting sustainable operational practices.The NPS has set a goal to significantly exceed the federal requirements for reducing total energy use in NPS operations and having a portion of park energy come from renewables by 2016, the 100th year anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. We also look forward to taking a leadership role in meeting or exceeding the DOI greenhouse gas emission reduction goals developed in response to Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance issued October 5, 2009.
The Climate Friendly Parks Program and the Energy SmartPARKS Program are two of the key ways that NPS is mitigating greenhouse gases through these areas of emphasis:
·Emissions Inventories:Parks quantify and track their emissions and identify specific areas where reductions can be most readily achieved.
·Climate Action Planning: Parks use the Climate Leadership in Parks (CLIP) tool to identify carbon reduction goals and actions to follow through on these goals.Almost sixty parks are now in the process of completing these plans.
·Energy Conservation: Significant portions of greenhouse gas emissions in parks come from transportation, energy consumption in buildings, and waste management.Mitigation solutions include sustainable design and construction, adaptive "green" reuse of historic structures, use of high-mileage and alternative-fuel vehicles, solid waste reduction, and alternative transportation systems that integrate all modes of travel within a park, including land and water-based vehicles.
·Renewable Energy: An increasing number of parks are generating energy from renewable sources, such as photovoltaic systems and geothermal heat exchangers. The Energy SmartPARKS program is a partnership with the Department of Energy that is focusing on generating renewable energy and showcasing sustainable energy practices in parks. Currently, NPS-wide, 3.8% of energy in parks comes from renewable sources.
NPS regions are also moving forward with their own climate change initiatives.For example, the Pacific West Region (PWR) has a very ambitious Climate Change Leadership Initiative that promotes Climate Friendly Parks.The overall objective is to support Executive Order 13423, Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management, by setting greenhouse gas targets.The 58 parks in the region have set a target of becoming carbon neutral for park operations by 2016 and now generate over 4% of their energy from renewable sources.
Safeguarding and Protecting Park Resources, Structures, and Uses—Adaptation Planning and Implementation
While mitigating the causes of climate change is essential, parks must plan now for adapting to the resource and visitor use impacts of climate change.Worldwide, national parks and protected areas represent the core areas, refugia, and often, habitat and source populations for species which disperse nationally and internationally.
Given the broad impacts of climate change, management responses to such impacts must be coordinated on a landscape-level basis.Enhancing scientific expertise within the Service will enable NPS to expand formal relationships with partners outside park units who share our concerns, and will foster development of cooperative projects to further conservation of shared species and their habitats.
The NPS will fully participate with each of the DOI-proposed Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) and Regional Climate Change Response Centers (RCC) including universities, tribes, states, federal agencies and other partners and stakeholders. The LCCs and the
For adaptation planning and implementation, our highest priority is to support the ability of species, communities, and ecosystems to respond to changing conditions.For example, changes in weather patterns, water availability, and wildland fire will stimulate changes in the distribution and abundance of plants, animals, and ecological communities through both adaptation and migration. NPS actions to build resilience and reduce other ecosystem stressors, especially the effects of exotic species, will help to reduce the extent or intensity of some of the most deleterious impacts on park resources from climate change.NPS actions to restore currently degraded natural ecosystems can make them more resilient to future effects of climate change.These types of resource management activities are already occurring in national parks, but will become increasingly important as park management priorities.We need to intensify our exotic species control work and subsequent ecosystem restoration by developing comprehensive resiliency strategies for four initial focus areas:high altitude, high latitude, southwest arid lands, and ocean ecosystems.Examples of our current activities include the restoration of major ecosystems such as the
A critical component for adaptation planning and implementation involves continuing to build our long-term science information and ecosystem monitoring (Vital Signs) capacities.The National Park System represents a wide range of ecosystems scattered across the nation, and therefore, embraces a broad spectrum of diverse natural environments.Because of this diversity, parks present tremendous opportunities to observe the effects of climate change on known resource conditions that park scientists and managers have documented over decades.
The NPS Inventory and Monitoring program includes 32 networks serving more than 270 parks, and data from this program are presently being summarized and synthesized to better establish the current condition of park resources and to provide a baseline against which to better assess and understand future natural resource conditions.Inventory and Monitoring networks are strategically positioned to help parks acquire the information they need to make informed decisions, to employ adaptive management, and to test alternative strategies for adapting park resources and visitor uses to the effects of climate change.
In addition to natural resource monitoring and condition assessments, we conduct condition assessments of cultural resources and ethnographic studies that include information on past and current subsistence uses of park natural resources.Information from these programs also informs state and other members of landscape-scale partnerships and provides valuable site-specific information for use by scientists looking at regional and national scale trends.
Although resource management planning for future decision-making must be based on expectations of future conditions, in an era of climate change, the future will be characterized by highly consequential and unprecedented changes that cannot be forecast with as much accuracy and precision as we would like.Consequently, during the next ten years the NPS will utilize a scenario planning approach that uses the best available science to explore a range of plausible "multiple working futures" and consider appropriate actions within each of those possible futures, including changes in park zoning, the landscaping of developed park areas with native rather than exotic species, and the design or location of buildings and roads and infrastructure.Scenario planning is being specifically designed to help managers identify policies and actions that will be most effective across a range of potential futures and to promote tactical adaptation responses that are compatible with the NPS mission and contribute to landscape-scale partnerships.
Parks Serve as Models of Sustainability and Places to Communicate Climate Change Information
There is a great need at this time to communicate the complexities of climate change and the actions that can be taken.With 275 million visits annually, the parks can serve as models of sustainability and adaptation and as platforms to effectively communicate information about the effects of climate change.Information that parks provide can be a catalyst for visitors to do their part for climate friendly parks and beyond.
NPS is instituting a number of efforts to communicate the effects of climate change and its impacts to national parks.These include a monthly web-based seminar series featuring climate change experts on science, communication, and management topics. They also include interpretive training using a decision-tree for developing knowledge around individual aspects of climate change that will help park rangers to frame interpretive programs and answer visitor questions.The NPS, in conjunction with other federal agencies, has developed a "Climate Change, Wildlife and Wildlands Toolkit" that interpreters in parks, zoos, aquariums, science centers and outdoor and classroom educators across the country may use to talk about climate change.In addition, NPS in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service together are creating summaries of climate change knowledge for specific bioregions – a series of 11 bioregional documents envisioned to date – to summarize the current state of knowledge about climate change and impacts to protected areas in those bioregions, with a focus on national parks and refuges.
Looking forward, the NPS has a goal of every park having climate change information available through brochures, wayside exhibits, interpretive programs and handouts, and park websites.The Climate Friendly Parks Program has encouraged achieving this goal, and many parks, including Point Reyes National Seashore, Glacier National Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park, make climate change information readily available to the public.The NPS is currently developing and supporting a new and exciting "Visitor – Do Your Part Program" which will have visitors voluntarily measure and reduce their own carbon footprints.In addition, NPS also is exploring ways to utilize its national preservation programs, such as Preservation Assistance and the
Meeting Our Nation's Renewable Energy Goals While Protecting Treasured Landscapes
The Administration has embarked on an ambitious and much needed strategy to reduce the generation of greenhouse gases and our national dependence on foreign oil in a way that safeguards our environment.As part of that strategy, the Secretary has set specific goals for generating renewable energy from the public lands and the outer continental shelf, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectric projects. The Secretary has committed to fast tracking the compliance and the development of corridors to carry this energy to the areas of greatest demand.He also has made clear that he is committed to doing so in a manner that protects the environment, including our treasured landscapes.
The NPS supports this effort, and is committed to working with DOI and others to ensure that the siting and permitting of renewable energy development, including energy transmission and needed ancillary facilities, is done in a way that protects our natural and cultural heritage.We definitely need to be "smart from the start."Renewable energy development is not without its environmental impacts.We must be sure that the right projects are being permitted in the right locations and in the right way.
The NPS is pro-actively engaging other agencies and project proponents to resolve concerns associated with proposed renewable energy projects adjacent to park boundaries.I will be meeting with my counterparts in DOI to further this coordination and collaboration.
Our national park units provide environmental baselines to track and assess change, and they stand as some of the last vestiges where species populations, essential habitats, and ecological components function naturally.National parks also serve as core essential habitats as well as critical habitats for source populations of species. To succeed in the face of climate change, the NPS must lead by example in minimizing carbon footprints and promoting sustainable operational practices to ensure that intact ecosystem services are sustained within and outside of park boundaries.
One of the most precious values of the national parks is their ability to teach us about ourselves and how we relate to the natural world.This important role may prove invaluable in the near future as we strive to understand and adapt to a changing climate.We must engage in an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation with other agencies and partners to ensure that scientific information is collected, analyzed, and applied to better protect resources and explain the benefits and necessity of natural and cultural resource conservation across the nation and the world.
Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony.I am pleased to answer any questions members of the committee may have.
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