ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Disappearing species, record rainfall and an earlier start to a warmer summer season are some of the climate change events being seen more frequently here and in other national parks around the country.
“We don’t have a word for forward thinking adaptive strategies, but we need one,” said Rebecca Cole-Will, chief of natural and cultural resources for Acadia, during a presentation to a group of U.S. Representatives on Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Sieur de Monts Nature Center.
Cole-Will was one of several people associated with the park who spoke to the group of national political leaders who are using changing conditions in the country’s national parks to talk about climate change.
Last week, members of the House of Representatives Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition took a three-day tour of Acadia National Park. Those members included Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Mike Quigley (D-Illinois), Annie Kuster (D-New Hampshire) and Nanette Barragan (D-California).
“Every step of this week’s tour made it clearer than ever that we are experiencing the impacts of climate change right now,” said Rep. Quigley in a press release. “If we don’t act soon and decisively, the next generation will not have the same national treasures to visit that we do today.”
It was Rep. Quigley’s sixth visit to one of the country’s national parks to speak on the effects of climate change and the help that is needed to combat it at the national level.
“What we’re seeing here is too much water, while the West is experiencing devastating droughts and wildfires,” said Cole-Will. “We’re seeing precipitation events that are destroying everything… We started thinking about this 10 years ago. The information we had in 2012 is not the same as the information we have today. We’re seeing rapid change.”
During their three-day tour, the representatives met with park scientists and staff at the Schoodic Institute, Sieur de Monts Springs, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House and the carriage roads nearby, Cadillac Mountain and the Acadia Gateway Center in Trenton. They were able to learn about the park’s transportation planning and congestion management, preservation of the park’s unique flora and fauna, mitigation strategies for invasive plant species and a vegetation restoration project taking place on top of Cadillac Mountain.
“It was fascinating to learn that our parks are now focused on ‘climate triage’ because of how dramatically climate change has impacted native plants and wildlife,” said Rep. Barragan, who is the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Climate Task Force, in a press release. “Rangers are now introducing plant species that can survive warmer temperatures and increased rainfall. The focus is on how they can maintain a healthy ecosystem in extreme weather.
“Representing a coastal community, I was particularly interested in hearing from experts about the impact of sea level rise on Thunder Hole and our coasts. We need to invest in climate solutions to save our parks, our coasts and our communities all across the country.”
At Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider stood above the stairwell that leads to the top of the park attraction. He pointed to it and explained to the gathered group how the stairs need to be rebuilt every five to 10 years because of extreme weather patterns that erode them more quickly than expected.
“People joke about how California is going to fall off into the ocean,” said Rep. Barragan a few minutes later. “It’s not a joke.”
During the tour, Rep. Pingree explained how Acadia’s plant communities have already seen dramatic changes with one in five of the species documented a century ago by the Champlain Society no longer found in the park. Even though the forests are likely to adapt over time with a new mix of species, these transitions are disruptive, she added.
“The recent hurricanes, wildfires, and floods that caused nationwide havoc serve as an alarming wake-up call: Climate change is real, and it’s happening before our eyes,” said Rep. Pingree in a press release. “As we saw over the last three days, the climate crisis is affecting our beautiful national parks and the irreplaceable species that inhabit these areas. As chair of House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I have advocated for greater federal investment to preserve our parks and public lands as officials grapple with extreme weather changes caused by the climate crisis. As one of the 10 most visited national parks in the country, Acadia needs our support to remain a place where generations of Americans can continue to appreciate its unique natural beauty.”