Chesterton Tribune

Report: Climate change hitting Great Lakes national parks

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The five largest national parks on the Great Lakes—including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore—are “already feeling the impact of climate change, in the forms of rising temperatures, decreased winter ice, eroding shorelines, spreading disease, and a crowding out of key wildlife and plant life.”

That’s the conclusion of a report released on Wednesday by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report—entitled “Great Lakes National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption”—focuses on the five largest parks on the Great Lakes: Indiana Dunes NL; Sleeping Bear NL, Pictured Rocks NL, and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan; and Apostle Islands NL in Wisconsin.

“The five parks featured in this report together drew more than 4 million visitors in 2010,” the report states. “Visitor spending in 2009 totaled more than $200 million and supported nearly 3,000 jobs. These economic benefits are at risk as a changing climate threatens the special resources that draw vacationing families and others to these parks.”

The report makes the following case for climate change:

•Higher temperatures. “Summers in Indiana Dunes could become as hot by late this century (2070-99) as summers in Gainesville, Fla., have been in recent history (1971-2000),” the report states.

•Less winter ice. “Higher air and water temperatures already are reducing winter ice cover on the Great Lakes, a trended expected to accelerate,” the report states. “Lake Michigan may have some winters with no ice cover in as soon as 10 years.”

•Major erosion. “With less ice and more open waters, the lakes will have more waves in winter than before, especially during strong storms, increasing erosion threats to park shorelines and structures,” the report states.

•Loss of wildlife. “In Isle Royale, the moose population has declined, as have the numbers of the wolves that depend on them as prey,” the report states. “Other park mammals at risk as the climate changes include lynx and martens. Birds at risk of being eliminated from the parks include Common Loons and Ruffed Grouse, iconic birds of the Great Lakes and the North Woods.”

“Human disruption of the climate is the greatest threat ever to America’s national parks,” said RMCO President Stephen Saunders, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Change is natural,” said Chicago Wilderness Trust President Dale Engquist, former superintendent of Indiana Dunes NL. “But the changes we face with the accelerated rate of global climate change that our human activities have caused don’t allow millennia or even centuries for adaptation. The changes now will take place in only decades without time for nature to adapt.”

“We need to head off climate change quickly to protect our Great Lake parks, the iconic landscapes and wildlife that live in them, and our own communities,” said NRDC staff attorney Thom Cmar. “Climate action is economic action in the Great Lakes. To protect the jobs and massive revenue that come out of these parks, Congress needs to either act on climate or get out of the way and let the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) do its job to limit carbon pollution.”

The report also makes these statements:

•“The amount of rain falling in heavy storms in the Midwest increased by 31 percent over the past century. This is well above the national average of 22 percent.”

•“Winds over the Great Lakes already are stronger than they used to be. Lake Superior wind speeds have increased by 12 percent since 1985.”

•“The waters in the Great Lakes are hotter, with their temperatures having increased more in recent decades than air temperatures have. Lake Superior’s summer water temperatures rose about 4.5 degrees from 1979 to 2006, roughly double the rate at which summer air temperatures have gone up over the surrounding land.”

•“Botulism outbreaks linked to high water temperatures and low lake levels now kill hundreds to thousands of birds a year in Sleeping Bear Dunes NL. There are so many dead birds covering the park’s beaches that the National Park Service patrols from June through November to clean up the bird carcasses.”

•“In 2010, a tick of the type that carries Lyme disease was confirmed on Isle Royale for the first time—a fact apparently being reported publicly for the first time in this report. Cold temperatures previously prevented the ticks that carry Lyme disease from reaching so far north, but their spread into the region had been projected as the climate gets hotter.”




Posted 7/14/2011