Climate Change in Yellowstone and Other National Parks
Despite being some of the best-protected places on Earth, our National Parks are impacted by climate change and associated environmental degradation. We will continue to experience significant threats at Yellowstone and other parks if we do not act to reverse the current trends of global warming and extreme weather changes.
“If we continue to increase our emissions of heat-trapping gases, a disrupted climate will cause the greatest damage to our national parks ever.”
~ Stephen Saunders, NRDC
Global Climate Change
As defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “Climate refers to the mean and variability of different types of weather conditions over time, with 30 years being a typical period for such measurements, although shorter or longer periods also may be used,” and, “The term climate change thus refers to a change in the mean or variability of one or more measures of climate (e.g., temperature or precipitation) that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer, whether the change is due to natural variability, human activity, or both” (source). Hundreds of climate and weather models’ predictions have been verified by field data from stations around the world, as of 2015, with actual events even surpassing initial forecasts about rates of change in our environments. One of the largest variables in these models is greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane. Emissions from human activity and other sources directly and indirectly contribute to global warming, ocean acidification, public health issues, and habitat loss, among other global and regional outcomes of climate change (source).
Impacts at Yellowstone
In Yellowstone—and in national parks across the country—the consequences of climate change have already begun to appear. Scientists monitor Yellowstone’s snowpack levels, temperatures at different elevations and water sources, fire events, plant growth rates and pollen production, soil conditions, biodiversity, and various additional factors to gauge climate change’s contributions to plant and wildlife shifts in growth cycles, migrations, and base geographic ranges. According to information from the NPS and adapted here, other present and likely impacts associated with climate change include:
- Research indicates Yellowstone’s temperature will continue to rise over the next century, but the behavior of precipitation is more difficult to predict. Average temperatures in the park are higher now than they were 50 years ago, especially during springtime. Nighttime temperatures seem to be increasing more rapidly than daytime temperatures.
- In the last 50 years, the growing season has increased by roughly 30 days in some areas of the park.
- At the Northeast entrance, there are now 80 more days per year above freezing than in the 1960s.
- There are approximately 30 fewer days per year with snow on the ground than there were in the 1960s.
- Fire frequency and season length could increase.
- Changes in the composition of plants and animals throughout the park.
- Altered amount and timing of spring snowmelt, which affects water levels, vegetation growth, and the movement of wildlife—from migrating bison and spawning trout, to the arrival of pollinators. As headwaters to significant water basins, any change in the rivers flowing out of Yellowstone then affects downstream users like ranchers, farmers, towns, and cities.
Our Collective Responsibility to Act
These significant problems drive Xanterra’s continuous commitment to Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint. With valuable public lands at stake, Xanterra recognizes its responsibility to visitors, communities, and future generations, as well as its own livelihood, to reduce risks, mitigate impacts, and adapt to changes.
Our concern for protecting and improving current quality of life standards, resource replenishment, and opportunities to enjoy and benefit from nature in our lives and work means that it is important for us to understand the potential repercussions of these forces—and our opportunities to control them. Xanterra is a partner in the World Wildlife Federation’s Climate Savers program to support business network collaboration on commitments to strong environmental actions. In addition, Xanterra recently joined dozens of other major brands to sign the Ceres Climate Declaration and urge more proactive leadership in national climate and energy policies.
For more information
- National Park Service Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – Includes many up-to-date references on nature, geology, air quality and soundscapes.
- National Park Service Climate Friendly Park Program – Learn about what the parks are doing to help combat climate change.
- National Parks and Conservation Association – The group’s report Unnatural Disasters outlines the threats our parks face.
- Natural Resources Defense Council – The NRDC’s Losing Ground Report outlines the impacts of climate disruption in twelve western states. Their National Parks in Peril page details public land impacts even further.
- Xanterra’s Sustainability Successes and 2025 Goals – Includes a summary of our 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Report and related climate change action.