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Tell-tale signs of climate change are visible across the National Park System if you look for their subtleties.

  • In Glacier National Park, where not too long ago scientists predicted that the park's namesake rivers of ice would vanish by 2030, they now are saying the glaciers will be gone by 2020.
  • At Mesa Verde National Park, more frequent wildfires not only are sweeping through the park's forests, they're creating fertile ground for non-native plant species that can out-compete the natives.
  • More potent storms have washed out roads and trails in Mount Rainier, Olympic, and Glacier national parks.
  • Atypically mild winters in Rocky Mountain National Park have led to an historic outbreak of pine beetles that are killing thousands of trees in the park.

While the National Park Service is working to develop park-specific responses to the impacts of climate change, the vast network of public lands throughout the West has prompted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to call for a unified approach among the land-management agencies.

Such an approach, he said in mid-September, should entail a thorough examination of how climate change might already be affecting, or could in the future, the country's land, water, ocean, fish, wildlife, and cultural resources.

"Across the country, Americans are experiencing first-hand the impacts of climate change, from growing pressure on water supplies to more intense droughts and fires to rampant bark beetle infestations," the Interior secretary said. "Because Interior manages one-fifth of our nation's landmass and 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf, it is imperative that we tackle these impacts of a failed and outdated energy policy."

Via a secretarial order, Mr. Salazar established a framework through which Interior bureaus will coordinate climate change science and resource management strategies. Under the framework:

  • A new Climate Change Response Council, led by the Secretary, Deputy Secretary and Counselor, will coordinate DOI's response to the impacts of climate change within and among the Interior bureaus and will work to improve the sharing and communication of climate change impact science, including through www.data.gov;
  • Eight DOI regional Climate Change Response Centers, serving Alaska, the Northeast, the Southeast, the Southwest, the Midwest, the West, Northwest, and Pacific regions -- will synthesize existing climate change impact data and management strategies, help resource managers put them into action on the ground, and engage the public through education initiatives, and;
  • A network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives will engage DOI and federal agencies, local and state partners, and the public to craft practical, landscape-level strategies for managing climate change impacts within the eight regions. The cooperatives will focus on impacts such as the effects of climate change on wildlife migration patterns, wildfire risk, drought, or invasive species that typically extend beyond the borders of any single national wildlife refuge, BLM unit, or national park.

"The unprecedented scope of climate change impacts requires Interior bureaus and agencies to work together, and with other federal, state, tribal and local governments, and private landowner partners, to develop landscape-level strategies for understanding and responding to climate change impacts," said Secretary Salazar.

Through the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation, Minerals Management Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior manages iconic wildlife species from the Arctic to the Everglades, holds trust responsibilities on behalf of the federal government for over 500 tribal nations, and is home to some of the nation's top scientists and natural and cultural resource managers.

Kurt Repanshek is the author of several national park guidebooks, including National Parks With Kids. You can get a daily dose of national park news, trivia, and commentary by visiting www.nationalparkstraveler.com. This site tracks "Commentary, News, and Life in America's Parks." Follow National Parks Traveler on Twitter at www.twitter.com/parkstraveler.

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