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Scientists expect conditions in the Greater Yellowstone area will dry as temperatures and precipitation rise through the rest of the century, according to a climate report released Wednesday.

Temperatures across the world’s largest intact temperate ecosystem — the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem — could warm by as much as 10 to 11 degrees in the next 80 years, the authors wrote. Precipitation could increase 8% to 15% in the same time period.

More precipitation will fall in the form of rain rather than snow, and annual snowpacks will continue to decline, according to projections in the report. Runoff will peak progressively earlier in the spring, driving water shortages in the summer.

Predictions detailed in the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment build off climate trends that scientists have tracked in the region since 1950. The 22-million-acre area spans outward from Yellowstone National Park into northwest Wyoming, south central Montana and eastern Idaho.

Temperatures in the Greater Yellowstone area have increased 2 to 3 degrees since 1950, but precipitation has stayed consistent, according to the report. Annual streamflows have peaked one to 16 days earlier since 1950. Snowfall has declined 25% in places lower than 8,000 feet.

Steve Hostetler, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a co-lead on the report, said ongoing rapid changes to the environmental, social and economic makeup of the region motivated researchers to write the assessment.

The goals were to synthesize scientific information about past and projected climate-related changes and share it with scientists and non-scientists alike, he said. Authors wanted to make the findings relevant to the Greater Yellowstone area’s residents and visitors.Among the findings are that growing seasons will likely be longer and warmer, and drier summers will change the seasonal availability of water, Hostetler said. Warming could lead to fewer energy demands for winter heating, though demands for summer cooling could increase.

Loss of snowpack, early season melt-outs and warmer temperatures will increase wildfire potential at all elevations, according to Hostetler. Severe fires could change the makeup of forests or convert lower elevation forests to grasslands.

People who recreate in the summer and winter will have to contend with less reliable snow conditions, lower stream flows, warmer water temperatures and warmer air temperatures, he said.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service and researchers from universities in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, spent more than two years compiling Wednesday’s report. Nonprofit organizations and Tribes also contributed to the work.

It’s one of the first ecosystem-scale climate assessments of its kind, according to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

“Based on nearly 50 interviews with community leaders, city officials, agencies, businesses, citizens, ranchers and Tribal leaders, water and the need for more climate information are top concerns for folks in the (Greater Yellowstone area),” said Charles Wolf Drimal, a report co-author and GYC’s waters conservation coordinator.Cathy Whitlock, Regents Professor Emerita of Earth sciences at Montana State University and report co-lead, said information from the report will be updated and expanded upon in future assessments. Future work could specifically address climate impacts on fish, wildlife, forests, region economics, human health and other sectors.

“I don’t think there could be a better time for this assessment to be released,” said Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. “As we look at this year … we’ve already seen some of the driest conditions on record and major fire activity across the West at one of the earliest points that we’ve seen in recent history.”

Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of the Park County Environmental Council, said the report is a reminder of the harsh realities of climate change.

“The Yellowstone River and the people and jobs it supports are at risk,” she said. “You don’t have to be an expert to know that the runoff peaked way too early and flows are well below average this year.”

Growth and home prices in places like Park County will continue to rise as people seek refuge from the effects of climate change in other areas, according to Uberuaga.Chad Colter, director of the Fish and Wildlife Department for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, said climate change has the potential to fundamentally change ecological processes that affect Tribes, and there is an urgent need to build climate resilience.

“It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from,” he said. “We’re all impacted. We’re all on the same boat.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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