Climate Change Is Causing Earlier Springs in National Parks

The National Park Service was created to protect and preserve the United States’ natural wonders. But what happens when climate change starts to alter these sites?

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a new report revealing that three-quarters of 276 national parks are experiencing an earlier onset of spring. Half of the parks studied are experiencing “extreme” early springs.

The report authors discovered this by looking at historical data dating back to 1901.

For the parks in the “extreme” category, they found that “the onset of spring is earlier than 95 percent of the historical range,” says Jake Weltzin, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the authors of the report. “And we’re talking on the order of weeks.”

“Biological invasions are a really big deal in the national parks,” he says. In Saguaro National Park, Arizona, near where Weltzin lives, one of the invasive species that park staff struggle with most is buffelgrass.

“The warmer the winter and the warmer the spring, the sooner it can start growing,” Weltzin says of buffelgrass. “And so a lot of the other native plants are sort of sequestered in place.”

Another problem that earlier springs present for parks is a mismatch between plants and pollinators.

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(Ed. note) I volunteer as a citizen scientist in Great Smoky Mountains National Park recording statistics for this very thing. The ranger scientists who are monitoring the data say the mismatch between plants and pollinators is becoming a problem in the Smokies. Look for more issues of this nature in the future if more is not done to stifle the onset of climate change.


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