President Obama heads Saturday to Yellowstone National Park, where he and his family join the millions of Americans who thrill each year to the sulfureous steam of Old Faithful, the wild domains of bison and elk and the summer splendor of the Rocky Mountains.
Sadly, though, they'll also witness firsthand the domestic ravages of global warming. This widening scourge is taking a devastating toll on our country's first, oldest and most beloved national park, one more reason why the Senate should pass legislation aimed at curbing climate change and the destruction it wreaks.
The victim this time is the whitebark pine, the signature species of the northern Rockies ridge line and a foundational tree critical to the high mountain habitat of red squirrels, elk and grizzly bears.
A slow-growing species that lives for centuries, the whitebark pine is often the only tree hardy enough to withstand the frigid winters and harsh winds several thousand feet high in the Rockies. These majestic trees help to shelter smaller plants, stabilize vulnerable mountaintop soil, moderate snowmelt runoff, ensure steady stream flow in summer and produce a super-sized pine nut that's essential food for wildlife.
After anchoring the Rocky Mountain high country for thousands of years, the whitebark pine is threatened with extinction by a modern ill. The greenhouse gases that are heating our planet have warmed the northern Rockies just enough to allow the native mountain pine beetles to flourish at high elevations where few could thrive before now.
As a result, whitebark pine trees are under siege by these ravenous beetles. Right now as much as 70 percent of these ancient trees are already dead in parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
The First Family will see this ongoing disaster in the form of lifeless trunks gone grey where green and healthy spires once reached for the skies.
Wildfires and disease are playing a role. Scientists and foresters, though, say the trees could largely withstand those pressures if they were not weakened and further attacked by the beetle onslaught.
Global warming is changing climate patterns around the world. The Rocky Mountains are not immune, nor, as it turns out, is Yellowstone National Park. It has taken its place alongside the melting Arctic ice caps, sprawling African deserts, warming Caribbean waters and the increasingly violent storms they breed in the unholy parade of environmental catastrophe passing by our very eyes.
The Senate has the opportunity, and the obligation, to stand up to this unfolding calamity and stem the reach of its disastrous tide.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed earlier this summer by the House will help create 1.7 million jobs in promising new areas that will help us build more efficient homes, work places and automobiles. It will help make our country more secure by reducing our reliance on foreign oil. And it will push back against the greenhouse emissions we know are heating our planet, disrupting climate patterns and destroying the very ecosystems upon which our very survival depends.
In 1872, just seven years after the Civil War, our Congress established Yellowstone National Park as the first such delineation of public lands in our country -- indeed, the first anywhere in the world. From that inspired decision has grown a network of nearly 400 national parks for Americans to enjoy, a proud and rich legacy President Obama honors with his Yellowstone visit on Saturday.
As the rest of us ponder these national treasures, and the collective good they provide, let us remember, as well, the duty we have to preserve for future generations what others of vision protected for us. Together, we can turn back global climate change, safeguard our natural heritage and leave behind a brighter future for our children.