The latest of a running series of reports outlining how climate change could reshape national parks portrays economic and environmental impacts lashing at Acadia National Park and its surrounding communities. While the report's authors hope to catch the attention of Congress, they acknowledge that a groundswell of public concern might be necessary to convince politicians to act.
“I would say that the key to changing the political climate on the climate issue is for more people to understand how climate disruption is going to affect their lives and places that they love, and that’s why we’re doing these series of reports,” said Stephen Saunders, a former Interior Department official with the Clinton administration who now is president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.
Through the 42 pages of Acadia National Park In Peril, the Threats of Climate Disruption Mr. Saunders and officials at the Natural Resources Defense Council hope to grab the attention of both the general public and local, state, and federal officials with the possible impacts that could sweep the park.
Though clinging to little more than 47,000 wooded acres perched on a rock off the coast of Maine, Acadia is responsible for more than 3,000 jobs and $160 million a year in economic activity, notes the report released Wednesday. However, the varying effects of climate change -- rising seas, drier summers and winters, more power storms, and hotter year-round temperatures -- threaten those jobs and economic might, and pose equally serious threats to Acadia's natural and cultural resources, the report contends.
“One of the reasons we decided to do that (series of reports on parks) was because national parks are, as Ken Burns pointed out in his series recently, one of America’s greatest ideas and they’re places that people treasure," Theo Spencer, a senior advocate at NRDC's Climate Center and co-author, along with Mr. Saunders, of the report, said during a conference call to promote the report. "Obviously you don’t have to be from Maine to appreciate the beauties of Acadia, and lots of visitors come obviously from out of state to appreciate all national parks.
“So, they really are a treasure for people throughout the country, not just in the state in which they’re located. As we point out in the report, climate disruption is the greatest threat that the national parks have ever faced, and Acadia is no exception."
Previous reports the two organizations have collaborated on highlighted potential climate-change impacts at Glacier and Shenandoah national parks, 10 units of the National Park System in California (including Yosemite and Sequoia), and even historic Jamestown.
Back in October 2009 the groups also released a list of 25 national parks threatened by climate change.
According to the latest report, if nothing is done about anthropogenic climate change summer temperatures in Acadia could rival those of Atlantic City, New Jersey; 10 species of warblers could be driven from the park's forests; winter recreation -- cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice finishing and snowshoeing -- could be impacted by reduced snow cover; sea-level rise could inundate park roads and even muzzle Thunder Hole, a highly popular seaside cleft in the park's granite foundation that could lose its "thunder."
Familiar species of trees -- spruce and fir, maples, beeches, and birch -- could be replaced by stands of pines and oaks now located farther south, the report warns. Air-quality issues -- already a concern because of high ground-level ozone concentrations -- could be exacerbated by warmer summers, and a variety of mammals -- fishers, long-tailed weasels, northern flying squirrels, and jumping mice, could be at risk.
“Most of Acadia’s visitors are drawn here for the dramatic scenery, outstanding recreational opportunities, and the desirable climate that’s created by the moderating effects of the ocean currents of the Gulf of Maine," said Stephanie Clement, the conservation director for the Friends of Acadia advocacy group. "But our location here on the coast, uniquely situated between two biomes and at the edge of these dramatic ocean currents, also make the park particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“Friends of Acadia is very concerned about how the decisions of today will effect park visitors and the managers of the park tomorrow. We as individuals in the nation are causing gradual changes today that will quickly and irretrievably alter the natural and cultural environment of Acadia National Park.”
But with last week's election ushering in to Congress more than a few politicians who hold dim views of humankind's effect on the climate, let alone the economic aspect of coping with climate change, getting Congress to pay attention to the report could be difficult at best. That's where the rest of the country comes in, according to Messieurs Saunders and Spencer.
“We need action at federal, state and local levels, and we need voluntary action by families and individual and businesses. It really is going to take 'all of the above' to address the climate issues that we face," said Mr. Saunders. "And state action is needed because states have a roll that they have to play, and it also is crucial, because the actions that we take consistently demonstrate that climate protection is an economic boost, not an economic hindrance. And so the more evidence that we have of people actually doing things that create clean-energy jobs and saves energy costs for people helps to make it possible to be doing everything that we need to be doing.”