Photo: Ken Thomas
Next week, I will be biking through Glacier National Park in Montana, taking in the beauty, huffing and puffing up hills at altitudes I am not used to. Most importantly, I’ll be documenting the impacts of climate change, the threats of development and the steps the park is taking to adapt and conserve.
I’ll be doing this as part of the second annual Glacier Climate Ride, a six-day, 250-mile charitable bike ride through the park. The ride is hosted by nonprofit Climate Ride, which puts on multi-day rides and hikes throughout the country to raise money for conservation, sustainability and environmental causes.
Glacier National Park could not be a more fitting location for such an event. Scientists at the US Geological Survey predict that the large glaciers in the park will be gone by 2030. Will the park still be called Glacier if its namesake no long exists?
Fewer glaciers means less water run-off. Summers will be both hotter and dryer. The warmer weather has also made conditions more favorable for an invasive pathogen that causes a fungal disease to the whitebark pine. Around 80 percent of Glacier’s whitebark pines have been decimated from the non-native fungus over the last 20 years.
These are just a few of the threats that the park faces. And Glacier is far from the only national park feeling the effects of climate change. Scientists with the National Parks Service reported in 2014 that of 289 national parks, they are all “overwhelmingly at the extreme warm end of historical temperature distributions.”
The challenge for scientists now is to figure out what to do. What potential ill effects can be combatted and maybe prevented? Which ones are unavoidable and how will the parks adapt?
During the trip I will talk to scientists, park rangers and others who work in the park and see the changes taking place, and learn about the strategies they’re developing to deal with those changes for the future. I’ll report back on those findings here for Planet Experts.
As a participant in the ride, I’ve also been tasked with raising money, which will go to the Glacier National Park Conservancy and help fund the installation of renewable energy at the park to reduce its carbon footprint as well as programs to reduce the park’s waste and water usage.
If you would like to donate to the cause, you can do that here. The National Park Service, which turns 100 this year, will thank you. As will I.