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Climate Change in America's National Parks

Sep 16, 2021
E-Newsletters

Dear Friend,

In recent weeks, our country has seen devastating hurricanes across the Gulf, catastrophic flooding across the Northeast, and dangerous wildfires across the West Coast. Climate change is happening right before our eyes.

As part of my mission to further understand how climate change is already impacting our nation, I have led six climate change tours of our National Parks. These climate change tours have given me the chance to see firsthand the devastating impacts our world is experiencing and the ways park staff are working to combat it.

Congressman Mike Quigley stands in front of a line of trees and gesticulates as he speaks to men wearing yellow safety vests and green National Park Service gear.
Rep. Mike Quigley speaking with Acadia National Park Service staff and scientists.

Last week I led my colleagues in the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, Representatives Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, Chellie Pingree of Maine, and Nanette Barragán of California, on a three-day tour of Acadia National Park in Bangor, Maine.

Every step of the tour made it clearer than ever that we are experiencing the impacts of climate change right now.

In the foreground, Congressman Mike Quigley stands with his arms crossed as he listens to a woman in a green national park service hat. The ocean is in the background.
Rep. Mike Quigley learns about Acadia National Park from National Park Service staff.

One of the most severe climate change impacts in Acadia is that native plants and trees are struggling to adapt to changing temperatures. Previously, trees could drop seeds that grew up at the same pace old trees died, but now as they die invasive species take over before new trees can catch up. One management strategy scientists have implemented has been to bring in native plants from other areas of New England that can adapt to the warmer weather.

Small green plants grow in plots with a group of people in rain gear looking over them, including National Park Service staff and Congressman Mike Quigley
Rep. Mike Quigley views an experiment involving introducing native plants from other areas of New England to see how they adapt to the new Acadia ecosystem.

Six years ago, scientists at Acadia discovered an invasive Japanese insect attacking the native red pines. Three years later, almost all the red pines in Acadia were dead. Changing temperatures are enabling non-native insects to thrive and entirely altering ecosystems. The red pines in Acadia are just one example of this. Previously, invasive insect species that eat these trees would die off during the winter. However, warmer winters now allow them to survive and reproduce, causing greater harm to plants like the red pines.

Congressman Mike Quigley stands on a rocky slope and looks into the distance. In the background, the ocean and small islands are visible.
Rep. Mike Quigley on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Warming temperatures are impacting sea birds, too. Scientists have noticed that gull populations are in decline, with fewer eggs laid and fewer fledglings surviving. If species as prolific as gulls are being impacted by changing, there’s serious cause for concern.

A man in a National Park Service uniform and badge speaks and gestures toward a lake with green hills in the background.
Acadia National Park staff and scientists taught us about their efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Park staff’s understanding of the science of climate change and the real-time impacts—rising sea levels to shifting growing seasons for crucial native plants—was an inspiration. Despite the threats we face, it is clear from interacting and learning from the staff at Acadia that the park is in good hands.

Orange-red cliffs with a group of tourists looking into the ocean
Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park

From the beauty of Acadia’s coastline to its native vegetation, we stand to lose too much if our nation fails to tackle the climate crisis.

Acadia and national parks across America are at the forefront of the fight against climate change, and it is vital that Congress gives the National Park Service the tools and resources they need to continue their conservation and research missions. 

It also proves how important it is that we pass President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes critical initiatives to ensure that our nation is prepared to face the many threats of climate change.

After seeing the beauty of Acadia it has never been more clear to me that climate action cannot wait.

Sincerely,

Mike Quigley