Outdoors

Climate change could force 43 native bird species from local national parks, study says

Gray jays at Mount Rainier National Park are infamous for pestering skiers and snowshoers in hopes of scoring food. A new study says climate change is making conditions worse for these birds in the park.
Gray jays at Mount Rainier National Park are infamous for pestering skiers and snowshoers in hopes of scoring food. A new study says climate change is making conditions worse for these birds in the park. chill@thenewstribune.com

Climate change could dramatically change bird populations in national parks by 2050, according to a study by National Audubon Society and National Park Service scientists.

Bald eagles may no longer soar over the Grand Canyon and mountain bluebirds may no longer find the environment suitable in Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, the study states.

The peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday, shows that 25 percent of bird species in national parks could change over the next three decades as greenhouse gas emissions impact the climate.

The study of 274 national park service locations says Olympic National Park could see its climate become unsuitable for 19 species during summer and five species in winter. But it could become suitable in summer for 12 species and in winter for 22 species not currently found in the park.

This could mean the summer departure of birds such as various types of loons and rock wren and the arrival of species such as the Carolina chickadee and the California scrub jay.

At Mount Rainier, summer could see the departure of 12 species including the mountain bluebird and Nashville Warbler and the arrival of six species such as California thrasher and the mountain quail. Winter could see the departure of three species and the arrival of 12.

Summers at North Cascades National Park may no longer include the chipping sparrow and the American pipit but could add the mountain quail, ring-necked pheasant, western gull and blue-winged warbler. In winter, the park could become suitable for 18 species of birds not currently in the park, while the brown creeper might no longer find conditions suitable.

“These drastic climate projections underscore the important role our national parks play as habitat for birds, today and tomorrow,” said Joanna Wu, an Audubon biologist who was was the lead author for the study. “Scenarios with lower greenhouse gas emissions result in a lower average bird turnover.

“If we want to reduce the impact in these protected places, lowering carbon pollution is an integral part of the equation.”

Each park will receive a brief explaining which birds might leave and which might colonize the park.

“With new birds coming in and familiar birds heading out, the stewards of America’s public lands will need to prepare for substantial changes in the near future,” said Gregor Schuurman, a National Park Service ecologist who co-authored the study.

The study classified parks into five groups: High turnover overall, high potential extirpation, high potential colonization, intermediate change and low change.

Mount Rainier was classified as high potential extirpation, Olympic is considered high turnover and North Cascades is listed as low change.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497, @AdventureGuys
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