Climate change threatens N.D. park, report says

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota is listed among 25 national parks and monuments most at risk from climate change, a new report says.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota is listed among 25 national parks and monuments most at risk from climate change, a new report says.

Released Thursday, the report, "National Parks in Peril," was published by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. The report comes on the heels of the introduction of clean energy and climate legislation in the U.S. Senate, as well as Ken Burns' national parks series on PBS, which has put parks in the center of America's national conscience.

The report's message, in a nutshell: Climate change from human activity is the leading threat to wildlife, plants, water and ice in the 25 national sites.

"As a country, we need to ensure that our parks have a future that is as promising as their past," said Theo Spencer, senior advocate for the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Clean energy legislation is now moving in Congress that would help preserve our national treasures, while creating more jobs, economic growth and national security."

In the case of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the report cites the potential for more downpours and floods from rising temperatures, a loss of plant communities and a loss of wildlife. Invasive species such as leafy spurge and spotted knapweed, for example, thrive in hotter climates and aren't eaten by park species such as bison, elk and deer.


More than 60 exotic species threaten the park and surrounding area, the report said -- a problem that could be worsened by an altered climate.

"That is one of our few preserved prairie ecosystems, and it's an area where the plants that can come in can out-compete natives," said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the report's principal author.

Possible remedies

The report outlines a series of remedies to reduce the potential for climate change, including the passage of comprehensive clean energy legislation that reduces carbon pollution by at least 20 percent below current levels by 2020, increasing investment in energy efficiency and accelerating the development of clean energy technologies.

The National Parks Service also needs to prioritize the issue by enacting policies to mitigate the impacts of global warming and should have more funding for research and to reduce the effects of climate change.

"National parks are often referred to as the 'canaries in the mine shafts' when it comes to climate change," said Bill Wade, chairman of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. "By their very characteristics and locations, impacts and effects of climate change are noticed in national parks first and are a forewarning about what will happen elsewhere. That's why this report is particularly important."

The list of national parks and monuments at risk doesn't include any sites in Minnesota or South Dakota, but Glacier National Park in Montana and Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho are losing snow, ice and water, the report says.

"If you went to Glacier 20 years ago and you go back now and look the Grinnell Glacier, you're going to be kind of shocked," said Spencer, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We hope that's an eye-opener for people and makes them realize we have to do something about this."


And on that front, the scenario's not all gloom and doom. Spencer said the CEOs of some of the country's biggest corporations have joined forces to form the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a veritable who's-who of companies exploring options for reducing emissions.

They're putting pressure on Congress, Spencer said, to enact binding limits and reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent from current levels by 2050.

The players include companies such as General Electric, Alcoa, DuPont and Dow.

"Some of the biggest corporations in this country are not only saying global warming and climate change is real, they're saying we need to do something about it," Spencer said.

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