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Say Goodbye to National Parks Road Trips! • The Revelator
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Say Goodbye to National Parks Road Trips! • The Revelator



Climate change is already affecting the natural world. It has changed the timing of snow melts, flower blooms, and animal migrations. Now is the time to act. new studyResearch from Utah State University suggests that it will change when people interact and interact with these landscapes.

The research was published in Global Environmental ChangeIt shows how the United States’ use and allocation of public lands is likely to change over the next 30 year under two different climate scenarios.

They found that the summer months will see the most drastic changes. Their research revealed that it will be too hot to enjoy outdoor activities in many places by 2050. They predict that outdoor recreation on public lands will decline by 18% in the medium emission scenario and 28% in the high emission scenario.

Winter months are when people tend to avoid forests and woodlands due to the current temperatures. This will change. Warmer temperatures will result in more people looking to access public lands — a projected rise of 12-20%.

Springtime will see a slight increase of 5-9%. They did not find any significant changes in the fall.

These numbers are representative of the United States, but there were significant regional variations. The researchers saw summer use declines in all locations, but the sharpest dip would occur in the South Atlantic-Appalachian region — where things are already hot. There could be as high as 79% reduction in public lands recreation.

The Great Lakes region will see the greatest increase in winter use with a 42% increase under a medium warming scenario. The only region expected to see a decline in winter demand is the Upper Colorado Basin, where skiing and other snow sports are a favorite winter pastime that just won’t be possible as often under higher temperatures.

These changing patterns will not only affect those who plan their annual summer vacation to national parks, but also park managers and those living near popular public lands.

“In many locations, land managers may want to consider preparing for an increased peak season length, and more visitors in the winter compared to levels observed in the past,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Managers may have to shift resources to accommodate these changes. A bump in traffic during previously slow “shoulder seasons” could require a change in staffing and maintenance. These shifts could also have financial consequences for communities around public lands, which may see more visitors during off-peak hours and typical summer crowds drop off.

These administrative burdens are on top the many challenges that parks already face. In the last decade, national park visits increased by 15%. At the same time budgets remain flat, and some parks are dealing with staffing shortfalls, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks reports. Rocky Mountain National Park witnessed a 58% rise in visitors between 2010 & 2019, but only 16% of its employees were able to handle the rush of tourists.

National parks like Acadia, Glacier, and Acadia have introduced fees for parking in popular spots. Others, such as Yosemite National Park in California and the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, have established an advance reservation permit system to limit usage.

A decrease in summer visitors could help ease some strain. However, warming temperatures will cause other changes to public lands and create different concerns.

In the Global Environmental Change study, researchers noted that they didn’t take into account anyIndirectChanges caused by rising temperatures. In addition to the heat, climate change could remove many of the qualities people currently admire about our public lands — or make them more inhospitable.

Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park, has shrunk 113 acre between 1966 and 2015. Photo by Mer, (CC-BY-NC–ND 2.0)

For example, people may not want to plan their recreational activities in parks “with melted glaciers or in places that recently experienced wildfire.”

This isn’t hypothetical. Climate change has already triggered challenges to public lands’ access. California officials temporarily removed the signs of high-wildlife danger in September as a result of climate change. close all the state’s national forests. Last year, at the peak of the tourism season, Yosemite National Park closed because of dangerous air quality from the region’s wildfires. Climate change is increasing fire risk in the West. shifting the annual fall foliage seasonIn the northeast.

The National Parks Conservation AssociationThese precious ecosystems are also at risk from rising seas, longer droughts and less snow, according to scientists.

“Nearly everything we know and love about the parks — their plants and animals, rivers and lakes, glaciers, beaches, historic structures, and more — is already under stress from these changes, which together amount to a state of crisis for our public lands,” the organization reported.

Ironically, public lands face huge threats from climate change. However, many of those same lands are used in the extraction of fossil fuels that fuel the crisis. A 2018 reportThe U.S. Geological Survey discovered that fossil fuel extraction on federal lands was responsible for more than 25% of the nation’s emissions. That’s led environmental groups to call for an end to fossil fuel extraction on public lands and for the lands to instead become a climate change solution.

“Given that wildlands on public lands are managed by the federal government, there’s a clear opportunity to ensure they act as carbon sinks and not carbon sources,” the Wilderness Society reported. “Protected wildlands on public lands could maximize the absorption of carbon dioxide and avoid unnecessary release of greenhouse gases that would hinder other efforts to slow down climate change.”

That would be welcome news to all who benefit from public lands — not just humans.

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The deputy editor of The RevelatorShe has worked as a digital editor, environmental journalist, and digital editor for more than ten years. Her work has been published in The Nation. American Prospect. High Country News. Grist. Pacific StandardOthers. She is also the editor of two books about the global water crisis.

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