Conservation & Environment

Research indicates high levels of microplastics in WNC waters

Posted by on Apr 7, 2020 @ 6:48 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Research indicates high levels of microplastics in WNC waters

Jason Love got interested in microplastics by way of mussels. A wildlife biologist by education and training, he’d long been interested in the reasons behind the decline of Southern Appalachian mussel species, and in particular that of the federally endangered Appalachian elktoe. He was interested while working in his previous position as site manager for Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, and he’s interested now in his new position as associate director of the Highlands Biological Station.

“It used to have a stronghold in the Little Tennessee River, but beginning around 2004/2005 the populations just crashed, and they’re possibility extirpated from the Little Tennessee,” Love said. “That motivated me to understand what’s going on.”

In summer 2018, he had a few interns who needed a project to work on. Love saw that, while literature was starting to show that microplastics were showing up everywhere from the Arctic to the oceans, no research had yet been published examining the situation in Southeastern streams. So, with the students’ help, Love set about investigating the issue.

“We need to start thinking about plastic not just as trash that’s unsightly, but as low-level toxic waste that needs to be dealt with,” he said.

The team collected samples from the Little Tennessee, the Tuckasegee River and Cartoogechaye Creek. “We expected to find microplastics, particularly in the streams that had wastewater treatment plants, which is both the Little Tennessee and the Tuckasegee, but Cartoogechaye did not have a wastewater treatment plant,” said Love.

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Farmworkers are risking their lives to feed a nation on lockdown

Posted by on Apr 6, 2020 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Farmworkers are risking their lives to feed a nation on lockdown

You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.

As strawberry-picking season kicks into high gear in April and May, farmworker advocates fear that a lack of worker safety protections, combined with a lack of access to health care and crowded living conditions, could lead to a major COVID-19 outbreak in farmworker communities across California.

As other crops are harvested throughout the spring, much of the rest of the country faces a similar risk. For a working population particularly vulnerable due to economic insecurity, exposure to pesticides, higher incidence rates of respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and chronic conditions such as diabetes, COVID-19 could be devastating.

“If we don’t do something to address the living, working, housing, and transportation conditions of farmworkers immediately, we are setting ourselves up for a tremendous impact in the agricultural sector because these crops cannot be picked without farmworkers,” said Andrea Delgado, director of government affairs for the UFW Foundation, which provides a range of services to farmworker and immigrant communities.

At the federal and state level, the UFW Foundation has urged Congress and state governments to address the unique needs of farmworkers by providing relief that can both prevent the spread of the virus and help the workers survive the challenges ahead. There are more than 2.4 million farmworkers across the country, and it’s estimated that about half are undocumented.

In the most recent economic stimulus package, Congress earmarked $9.5 billion for the Department of Agriculture and $14 billion in loans for the agricultural industry, but Delgado’s concern is that none of this funding is specifically directed at farm laborers.

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As temperatures rise, Arizona sinks

Posted by on Apr 5, 2020 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

As temperatures rise, Arizona sinks

Arizona is sinking. The combination of groundwater pumping and warmer temperatures is shrinking aquifers and lowering water tables. And as the land subsides, fissures open, 2-mile wounds that devour infrastructure and swallow livestock. Four of Arizona’s five economic pillars — cattle, cotton, citrus and copper — use huge amounts of water, while the fifth, the state’s climate, is changing, making water scarcer.

Development and growth are intensifying the problem, despite relief from state laws and the existence of the Central Arizona Project, which began delivering Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson in the 1980s.

Today, where subsidence is worst, groundwater pumping isn’t even monitored, and big agricultural and anti-regulatory ideologues try to stymie any efforts to keep tabs on how much water is being pumped. Big corporate farms are sprouting in areas without CAP water and virtually no regulation on groundwater pumping.

More and more farms produce alfalfa, one of the thirstiest crops on Earth; the number of acres in hay production more than doubled between 1987 and 2017, and tonnage nearly tripled. Meanwhile, Arizona is getting even hotter.

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It’s Important to Keep Talking About Climate Change Now

Posted by on Apr 1, 2020 @ 6:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s Important to Keep Talking About Climate Change Now

In the midst of a pandemic with an immediate and visible toll on human life and the economy, other ongoing crises have fallen lower on the public’s radar. But environmentalists are finding ways to keep climate change relevant by advocating loudly for an agenda that protects people as well as the planet.

A consensus seems to be emerging from environmental groups that climate change and coronavirus are both massive global problems that may require similar strategies to solve. Each requires a combination of individual action and sweeping, potentially unpopular political policies. Both bleed across political and social boundaries but affect the most vulnerable populations (even if the vulnerable are usually not the ones spewing carbon into the atmosphere or partying close together in Miami Beach).

Both will progress too far to effectively contain if we wait until we can see the impact of the crisis, but it’s hard to convince people to change if they can’t see the results. Both are growing exponentially, overwhelming the systems we rely on to sustain our daily lives. In the case of each crisis, we knew in advance that things could become apocalyptically bad.

Coronavirus has made it sharply clear that ignoring science can be deadly, and that placing responsibility for widespread crises on individual choice instead of government negligence can stall any realistic solutions. Those are lessons that environmental groups have tried to hammer home for years.

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The deep science state

Posted by on Mar 31, 2020 @ 7:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The deep science state

Since President Trump took office in 2017, environmental protection has been under assault. As of December, 2019, the administration had completed at least 58 rollbacks of environmental rules.

The good news is that government scientists and lawyers are inserting statistics and data about the dire consequences of proposed rule changes into the technical documents that accompany them. Those figures could help environmental groups challenge the new rules in the courts.

For example, in the EPA’s analysis of an Obama-era rule that limits the release of fine soot, scientists included data showing that up to 12,150 lives could be saved if the rule were tightened. (The administration doesn’t want to tighten the rule.) When the Trump administration released a proposal to reverse emissions regulations for coal-burning power plants, the draft included an analysis revealing that the changes would lead to 1,400 premature deaths per year.

There’s not much the Trump administration can do to stop these fact-forward disclosures. In many cases, they are protected by federal law that prevents the government from altering or suppressing science.

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Keeping the doorstep green: Canton likely to receive 448 acres for outdoor rec

Posted by on Mar 28, 2020 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Keeping the doorstep green: Canton likely to receive 448 acres for outdoor rec

  If all goes as planned, Canton, NC will soon have a 448-acre park for hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor recreation activities just a mile from town limits. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy hopes to close on the property, known as the Chestnut Mountain Tract and currently owned by Canton Motorsports LLC, within the next couple months.

“It’s amazing what’s going to happen, not just for quality of life and economic development, but also at the end of the day we preserve 450 acres which could have been developed by who knows what,” Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said during a town meeting.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has been working on the purchase for much of the past year, applying for grants and working with donors to pull together the funds needed to buy the property outright. In September, the land trust was awarded $1.2 million from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, with the Pigeon River Fund of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina contributing $25,000 with a grant announced in November. However, it wasn’t until last week that the land trust publicly announced the project, following a $150,000 N.C. Department of Justice Environmental Enhancement Grant.

It is the intent of the town with assistance from Haywood County and with some of the other partners to turn this into a major outdoor recreation venue concentrating on mountain biking, hiking, & walking. The property has some topography, but it’s not crazy steep — elevation varies between a low of 2,365 to a high of 2,555.

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Is life during coronavirus how we will live during climate change?

Posted by on Mar 27, 2020 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

So will this animation around COVID-19 translate to a climate revolution? The difficult thing about climate change, versus coronavirus, is that, until very recently, it appeared to be a far-off probability versus an impending threat. It’s really hard to get people to do things that are challenging or even just inconvenient to preemptively address a distant, not-certain threat. There’s been a general lack of real talk when it comes to the level of change needed — yes, even in your own life — to avoid the most serious consequences of global warming.

Given the urgency of the problem, a staggering number of people have, willingly or not, drastically changed their lifestyles for the greater good of humanity. That’s the same level of selfless initiative (or at least, government-mandated disruption) that activists say is needed to address the slower-moving existential crisis already in progress.

In very simple terms, curbing global warming will require everyone to change the way they live and shift away from fossil fuels. That doesn’t happen without a pretty compelling rallying cry.

More people need to treat the climate crisis as they did World War II: a global emergency that requires deep cooperation and personal sacrifice. But given our current COVID-19 predicament, we no longer have to look back that far in history for inspiration.

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The Leave No Trace Recommendations for Getting Outside During Covid-19

Posted by on Mar 24, 2020 @ 7:01 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Leave No Trace Recommendations for Getting Outside During Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly altering our daily life. It is important to be aware of the most current information from the CDC on these changes, and that goes for changes to the way we spend time outside as well. To keep ourselves, our communities, and our outdoor spaces safe and healthy during this time, please consider these recommendations.

Where COVID-19 is spiking, it may not be possible to get out at all, so pay close attention to guidance in your community before heading outside. Then follow social distancing guidance, meaning staying at least six-feet away from anyone you aren’t living with.

Many experts are recommending that you refrain from using public restrooms and other open facilities at all right now. Take necessary precautions like bringing extra food and water.

Pack all your trash and recyclables out with you all the way home and utilize your own receptacles.

Absolutely avoid crowded parks, trails and beaches. To avoid being part of the creation of large crowds and groups at popular outdoor areas, spread out to less popular spots, and avoid times of highest use if possible.

Our outdoor spaces will likely be receiving less attention from staff and volunteers right now. This means our shared spaces need us to act as stewards more than ever.

We are all in this together. Be considerate of others in the outdoors by ensuring that you practice social distancing. Be particularly kind to park staff during these challenging times.

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How To Be A Climate Activist During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted by on Mar 23, 2020 @ 6:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

How To Be A Climate Activist During The Coronavirus Pandemic

April was supposed to be a huge month for climate action. The plan was to have a month of global mobilization with thousands of protests and events planned by almost 1 million different organizations working together.

Activists had hoped to build on the success of last September’s worldwide climate strikes, which saw 8 million people take to the streets to demand action. And with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day next month, campaigners predicted millions of people would again be out on the streets in countries across the globe, trying to drive home the urgency of the climate crisis.

Then came the coronavirus.

Earth Day Network, the global organizer of Earth Day, has called for the first Digital Earth Day in response to the escalating threat of COVID-19. “Amid the recent outbreak, we encourage people to rise up but to do so safely and responsibly — in many cases, that means using our voices to drive action online rather than in person.”

It’s not just Earth Day, of course. U.S. organizations such as the Youth Climate Strike Coalition and the Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of 91 organizations dedicated to ending the financing of industries contributing to the climate crisis, have cancelled physical mass mobilizations and public rallies in the U.S.

Mandates for social distancing and self-isolation are simply not compatible with large-scale mass gatherings.

Learn how to still be active…

 

Spring Wildflowers on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Posted by on Mar 22, 2020 @ 6:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Spring Wildflowers on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The promise of refreshing walks in the woods, colorful blooms, and a greener landscape on the Blue Ridge Parkway are bright spots during these stressful times. If you’re headed out to appreciate the diverse wildflowers that herald the season’s arrival, here are tips for the best viewing and staying safe.

To plan your wildflower excursions, look to the trees for signs of the best opportunities. When leaves begin to bud, it’s a good time to head out. Don’t miss the cue, because once the leaves begin to fill in the canopy, the flowers are fading, explained Chris Ulrey, plant ecologist with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

There are more than 1,600 vascular plants that call the Parkway home, and about 80 percent are wildflowers, according to the National Park Service. The abundant rainfall, moderate climate, and diverse habitats, from fields and forests to ridges and coves, contribute to the wondrous variety of Appalachian flora.

Bloom times vary greatly depending on elevation and direction of the slopes, so if you miss a flower bloom at a lower elevation, you can still catch the show at a higher vista. “As you go up in elevation, you go back in time,” explained Chris Ulrey, plant ecologist with the Blue Ridge Parkway. “Spring starts in the valleys and finishes on the peaks. A flower can be blooming on a peak a month behind the lower elevations.”

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The National Park Service is selling out to telecom giants

Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 @ 7:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The National Park Service is selling out to telecom giants

There aren’t many places people can go these days to escape completely from the ubiquitous influence of social media, smartphones, Big Tech and telecom companies. The blank spots on the coverage maps are constantly shrinking, though not equally, and not everywhere. In many cases, the expansion of broadband coverage is necessary; telecom providers too often underserve rural areas, tribal nations and Black and Latino communities, for instance. Their exclusion from reliable coverage has a negative impact on everything from local economies to public health.

The United States is struggling to remedy these inequities. At the same time, there are also spaces — national parks, wilderness areas and other public lands — that some believe should remain refuges from the digital world. Such places provide a final opportunity to preserve small pockets of smartphone-free open space in the United States — landscapes where you can still escape the electronic handcuffs. But they are beginning to disappear.

The telecom giants — AT&T, Verizon and more — are pushing to build out infrastructure on protected public lands across the country. These corporations hope to extend their reach into some of the most iconic and remote corners of the United States. And they have found a close collaborator in the federal government, which is working alongside industry operatives to open many national parks and other public lands to commercial wireless service. With a sprawling network of cell towers soon to be installed within its boundaries, Grand Teton National Park is a testing ground.

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Bonneville Shoreline Trail runs into dispute between trail advocates and environmentalists

Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 @ 7:06 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Bonneville Shoreline Trail runs into dispute between trail advocates and environmentalists

Utahns of all political stripes enjoy trails that connect their communities to the outdoors, but efforts to expand one of the state’s premier trails threaten to divide two groups of stakeholders that are normally allied on public lands issues: trail users and wilderness advocates.

The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which contours along parts of the Wasatch foothills, tracks the edge of what was once a vast lake. But most of it persists as mere jagged lines on a map, particularly in the southern half of Salt Lake County, where deep canyons meet a heavily populated valley.

There, the trail is more of an aspiration than an actual pathway because private properties, extending above Olympus Cove, Millcreek, Holladay, Sandy and other Salt Lake City suburbs, effectively push future trail development into steep, rugged higher ground.

To avoid such parcels, trail proponents and the U.S. Forest Service outlined routes that climb far above neighborhoods into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. But that presents another obstacle. In several key places, the trail would cross designated wilderness, which prohibits the use of mechanized equipment, including mountain bikes and motorized trail-building tools.

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Transylvania County Tourism announces $100,000 toward Ecusta Trail

Posted by on Mar 15, 2020 @ 7:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Transylvania County Tourism announces $100,000 toward Ecusta Trail

At the Transylvania County, NC Tourism (TCT) Board of Directors’ annual retreat, a motion was passed to set aside $100,000 from the organization’s fund balance for the development of the Ecusta Trail. TCT previously pledged support of the rail to trail conversion back in June of 2015, emphasizing the benefit that the trail would have on the community.

After nearly a decade of conversation and behind the scenes efforts by many in Henderson and Transylvania Counties, momentum has picked up surrounding the development of the trail. TCT’s announcement follows on the heels of the $6.4 million purchase money grant to Conserving Carolina from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) in August, 2019.

“Transylvania County Tourism has a role to play in our community that goes deeper than just marketing and promotion,” states TCT Chair Layton Parker. “Our board is committed to being part of the long-term success of tourism in Transylvania County and sees the importance and opportunity of the Ecusta Trail. It will become an integral element for the health of our community, outdoor recreation and sustainability of tourism that sets our county apart as a destination for both residents and visitors to enjoy.”

The Ecusta Trail is a PROPOSED 19 mile rail-trail between the cities of Hendersonville and Brevard, North Carolina. It is envisioned as a multi-use walking, hiking and biking greenway along the railway corridor connecting Hendersonville, Laurel Park, Horse Shoe, Etowah, Pisgah Forest and Brevard. Once complete, it will connect with the existing Brevard Bike/Walk Path, the Estatoe path leading into Pisgah Forest, and the Ocklawaha greenway connecting Jackson Park, Patton Park and Berkeley Park in Hendersonville.

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Blue Ridge Parkway roads and trails swell to 15 million visitors in 2019, budget shrinks

Posted by on Mar 11, 2020 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Blue Ridge Parkway roads and trails swell to 15 million visitors in 2019, budget shrinks

Nancy Midgette, in her volunteer role as a “Craggy Rover,” acting as a helping arm to the Blue Ridge Parkway rangers at Craggy Gardens, learned she can talk for four hours straight.

That’s about how long she spent talking to visitors on her four-hour shifts last summer at Craggy Pinnacle, just north of Asheville, pointing out the mountaintop names in the distance from the 360-degree vantage point, telling them where the closest bathrooms and hotels are, and explaining why they shouldn’t step over the rock walls that have signs saying not to step over the rock walls.

And that’s just a fraction of the nearly 15 million people who visited the parkway in 2019, a 2% increase from the year before, making the parkway the second most visited of all 419 units in the National Park Service.

But with increasing visitors means increasing reliance on people like Midgette who volunteer their time as extensions of the ranger staff. The budget for the National Park Service, which is a division of the Department of the Interior, has continued to decline for years.

In President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, he cuts the NPS budget by nearly 18%, from $3.2 billion to $2.8 billion. The parkway’s budget, despite its growing visitation, has remained relatively flat for the past decade. But the request in the FY 2021 budget is for $16 million, $1 million less than last fiscal year.

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Great Smoky Mountains seeks hiking volunteers, ‘critical’ information

Posted by on Mar 10, 2020 @ 6:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Great Smoky Mountains seeks hiking volunteers, ‘critical’ information

Do you love hiking? If so, the most-visited park in the nation wants your help.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is recruiting volunteers to “adopt” sections of its many trails. Volunteers would hike at least one designated trail four times per year and tell the park what they see.

The park said it would use volunteer input to figure out which trails need work – and where. In a press release, the park said this information is “critical” for keeping trails accessible.

No experience is required, but the park said volunteers should be comfortable hiking in the back country and enjoy interacting with visitors.

Volunteers must attend a 3-hour required training. The park said the training covers how it maintains trails, how to report a relevant trail needs information, and how to emphasize ‘Leave No Trace’ practices while hiking.

The park is holding two training sessions.

9 a.m. to noon at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, NC on Saturday, March 28, 2020.
9 a.m. to noon at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, TN on Saturday, April 11, 2020.

If you’re interested, the park said you can contact Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator Adam Monroe by phone (828-497-1949) or email (adam_monroe@nps.gov) to register for the training.

 

Over 6,000 acres added to Tennessee’s Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park

Posted by on Feb 29, 2020 @ 6:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Over 6,000 acres added to Tennessee’s Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), in partnership with The Conservation Fund, TennGreen, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced the addition of 6,229 acres to the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.

In a TDEC press release, the organization stated that the land, known as the Lone Star property, will support wildlife habitat and native ecology and will be a critical connecting point for the Cumberland Trail, Tennessee’s first “linear park,” which runs through 11 counties and two time zones. The land will be used to develop a significant segment of the Cumberland Trail, eventually connecting Ozone Falls State Natural Area to existing state-owned land.

When completed, the Cumberland Trail will extend more than 300 miles from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park to is southern terminus at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park just outside Chattanooga.

“For people and nature to thrive, habitats need to be protected, enhanced, and restored,” Steve Law, executive director of TennGreen, said. “Our forests and lands along streams on the Cumberland Plateau are critical to conserve because they provide essential habitat to a wide range of wildlife, fish, and plant species. We’re grateful to our partners and our fellow conservationists for making this decade-long dream a reality.”

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The locked gate: Road closure decisions complex in the Smokies

Posted by on Feb 28, 2020 @ 7:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The locked gate: Road closure decisions complex in the Smokies

Lisa Hendy is an early riser, and when it comes to dealing with snow days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that’s a good thing.

As chief ranger, Hendy’s responsibilities are many — but one of them is deciding when, if and for how long to close the roads when the weather gets bad. “Really what it boils down to is a combination of the forecast and observations on the ground,” she said.

She rises each morning at 4 a.m., and when severe weather’s in the forecast, the early wakeup allows her to get a jump on the day’s planning. The park bases its closure decisions on forecasts from the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee, as well as on-the-ground observations from employees. By 5:30 a.m., she talks with Facility Management Division Chief Alan Sumeriski and Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan to discuss the situation.

In those early morning hours, rangers who live in the park, road crew staff and anyone else who has a firsthand look will text Sumeriski to let him know what they see. The more observations, the better — with its dramatic variation in topography and elevation, conditions can vary wildly within the park’s 816 square miles.

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The Great Smoky Mountains’ iconic clouds are helping to protect the region from climate change – for now

Posted by on Feb 19, 2020 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Great Smoky Mountains’ iconic clouds are helping to protect the region from climate change – for now

Long before the Great Smokies became a national park, its mountains peeked out among clouds of haze. The Cherokee called the mountains “Shaconage”: the place of the blue smoke.

The iconic clouds in the park – on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee – are as important to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as glaciers are to Glacier National Park and Joshua trees are to Joshua Tree National Park. The blanket of haze is part of the draw for the Smokies’ 12.5 million visitors in 2019, almost twice the number at the Grand Canyon.

The haze is more than a sight to see: High rainfall totals and summertime humidity foster plant growth, making the region a biodiversity hotspot. The Smokies are home to 30 species of salamanders, earning the park the title of salamander capital of the world.

Moisture from the haze may also be protecting the Smokies ecosystem from the changing climate. The mountains are generally most moist at the top because the highest elevations are immersed in low-hanging clouds – a cloud forest. But as the climate continues to warm, the nature of the Smokies’ cloud cover may change.

Ana Barros, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, said rising temperatures could, in theory, decrease cloud cover, threatening key habitats for creatures such as salamanders. And Jason Fridley, a biologist at Syracuse University, warned that if the region sees a decline in precipitation on mountain peaks, “that might be catastrophic.” So scientists are working to understand the park’s clouds before they change forever.

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