Lighter Snowfall Endangers Mountain Meadows
Paradise Valley's wide-open expanse of meadows, brilliantly colored wildflowers and unparalleled views of Rainier's summit make it the most visited spot in Mount Rainier National Park. The valley owes its special character to the heavy snows and short growing season that keep the meadows clear of trees. But higher temperatures could enable trees to take over the meadows, as well as prevent wildflowers from growing. This process is not limited to Paradise Valley. Scientists have already detected a loss of mountain meadows on both the wetter west and dryer east sides of Olympic National Park.
Warming Streams Limit Salmon and Trout Fishing
Despite the twin threats of overfishing and habitat loss, this is still salmon country. The mighty Hoh River in Olympic National Park is home to ocean-going Chinook and coho salmon. The Skagit River Watershed reaching through North Cascades National Park is the only watershed in the country that still has all Pacific salmon species, as well as prize-sized steelhead and cutthroat trout. Anglers can try their hand against these iconic species -- that is, as long as the runs survive. Global warming is likely to increase water temperatures to dangerous levels for these acutely sensitive coldwater fish. In the Fraser River downstream of Jasper National Park in Canada, for instance, salmon have suffered 50 percent mortality in several runs during years with warmer than normal water temperatures. Streams and spawning grounds in Olympic and North Cascades could see a similar drop in fish.
Rising Sea Levels Threaten Coastline
While only the hardiest of souls will want to swim in the frigid waters off Olympic National Park, everyone can enjoy the rugged beauty of this coastline. Rising sea levels brought on by global warming, however, threaten this unique landscape. The U.S. Geological Survey has rated more than half of Olympic's 65 miles of coastline at high risk from rising seas. Likely changes include coastal erosion and submerged wetlands and estuaries. Especially vulnerable are Shi Shi, Rialto and Ruby beaches. Cultural treasures are also at risk. Petroglyphs carved into shoreline rocks and shell middens left behind by tribes could become swallowed by the sea. And now that the bluff overlooking Kalaloch Beach is eroding and may collapse, the Park Service is making plans to move Kalaloch Lodge and nearby historic cabins back from the bluff.