December 1, 2015

NPS releases report on actions to combat climate change in parks



The National Park Service yesterday released a report detailing actions underway to address climate change threats to infrastructure, recreation, and natural and cultural resources. The report follows a recent study that revealed sea-level rise caused by climate change could pose a risk to more than $40 billion worth of national park assets and resources.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell highlighted the report during a meeting in Paris with representatives from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, where the delegates discussed shared challenges in protecting World Heritage sites in the face of a changing climate.

Jewell is in Paris as part of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference.

“What’s happening in our national parks is a small window into the impacts of climate change on natural and cultural resources around the world,” Secretary Jewell said. “As negotiations kick off in Paris today, this report offers positive examples of what we can do, at a local level, to adapt and build resilience in the face of a changing climate – even as we work to curb carbon pollution around the world.”

Actions used by NPS managers to combat climate change in an already dynamic coastal zone are described through 24 case studies in the report.

One of the cases highlights the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1999 to protect it from the encroaching Atlantic Ocean. The case study was written by John Kowlok, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore's facilities manager.

Some other examples from the cases studies include:

  • At Everglades National Park in Florida – a World Heritage Site –  the new visitor’s facility in the Flamingo area was built with an elevated design to help reduce the risks from sea level rise and storm surges.

  • The Gateway National Recreation Area in New York has restored salt marsh elevation in Jamaica Bay through the addition of sediment and vegetation.

  • And in a lab in Ofu, part of the American Samoa islands, the National Park of American Samoa operates a facility that works on unique adaptations to Ofu coral and determining the cause of coral loss and damage.

“Sea level changes are subtle at some parks but already destructive at others where we are losing shoreline and infrastructure and where historical and cultural resources are also at risk,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said. “The upside is that we’re taking positive action as the result of adaptation planning we began in the National Park Service several years ago. This report illustrates actions we have underway to adapt to our changing climate, and as best we can, to preserve and protect the resources of our coastal parks.”

Dr. Rebecca Beavers, co-editor of the report, Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies, said the report was compiled to inspire action, innovation, and dialogue among park managers and other coastal management agencies that are responsible for protecting natural and cultural resources.

The report comes in advance of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016 and is part of Director Jarvis’ Call to Action, in which the NPS has already highlighted a need to plan for climate change.

Beavers, the NPS lead scientist on coastal adaptation to climate change, said the case studies will provide park managers with an array of coastal adaptation strategies.

“This report is one of a suite of tools with which the National Park Service is equipping their frontline managers – the park superintendents – to tackle diverse coastal challenges,” Beavers said.

In addition to her meeting with representatives from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee today in Paris, Secretary Jewell also met with U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO Crystal Nix-Hines and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to emphasize continued U.S. support for the world heritage and other UNESCO programs. Currently, there are 23 U.S. World Heritage sites. 







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