Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park (2018-present)
Chair, Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (2020- 2022)
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to transboundary conservation efforts within the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA). The Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment is an excellent synthesis of the best available science and serves as a basis for discussion and common understanding among agencies, organizations, and the public in finding solutions to climate change at a regional scale.
The report was produced by researchers from the universities in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, partnering with scientists from the US Geological Survey and National Park Service. It will be a much-needed source of climate change information for diverse groups in the region, including private landowners, communities, policy makers, natural resource specialists, and non-profit organizations. Its coverage of past, present, and future climate change and water resources in the GYA provides baseline information for future assessments of the climate impacts on fish, wildlife and forests in the region, as well as our social-economic well-being and human health.
Impacts to water and other natural resources in the GYA associated with climate change are often unidirectional and push the bounds of historic trends. Reframing our priorities and future resource goals is one of our biggest challenges. We know from the Assessment, for example, that temperatures in the GYA have increased by 0.35°F/decade since 1950 and are projected to increase at a higher rate in the future. Warmer temperatures have already led to decreased snowpack at elevations ranging from 5000 to 7000 ft, drier conditions conducive to fire, widespread die-offs of mature whitebark pine trees, invasive species outbreaks, and changes in the timing and rate of snowmelt are affecting fish spawning and the health of aquatic systems. Grassland habitats are altering bison migratory patterns, and rising temperatures are affecting food availability for songbirds. Protecting and restoring corridors (passageways that connect habitat patches) and connectivity across landscapes will require strong collaboration with partners and programs—public and private—throughout the GYA and beyond. These partners must share knowledge, ensure the survival of native species, and develop meaningful cross-jurisdictional conservation priorities and tools to address climate change threats across the ecosystem.
Climate change impacts are not just environmental. Every year, millions of visitors from across the world come to Yellowstone to see the park’s awe-inspiring landscapes and wildlife and spend hundreds of millions in local economies. The communities within the GYA are experiencing rapid
growth as people move to the region to enjoy the amenities. Climate impacts throughout the GYA, if not addressed, will directly affect the strength of local and regional economies as resource values and use change across the region.
To mitigate the impacts, Yellowstone National Park and its partners are developing climate response strategies that better incorporate climate data and projections into planning, operations, and program management efforts. We continue to develop new tools to provide realistic assessments of climate vulnerabilities and coordinate actions needed to better understand and respond to these changes.
I recommend the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment to you as the current definitive source of how climate change is affecting the GYA. The Assessment makes clear that the scale of climate change impacts far exceeds the ability of any one park, agency, organization, or community to effectively respond as a single entity. Integrated, cooperative adaptation strategies across large geographic areas will lead to more informed, comprehensive, and successful results.