Charles Wolf Drimal

Charles Wolf Drimal

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Early last week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a sweeping report on the status of and prognosis for the climate crisis. I read through the report’s key findings while sitting at my office desk under the protective cover of air conditioning, my typical view of the mountains rendered a hazy monochrome by smoke. The report included dire global-scale predictions for warming, sea level rise, drought, extreme weather, atmospheric methane, and more. It’s the kind of thing that can feel so big it’s tempting to turn away. Thankfully, here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem we have a new report of our own that can help us understand how these global changes will play out in our backyard.

Earlier this summer, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), in partnership with Montana State University, the University of Wyoming, the US Geological Survey, and the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) announced the release the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment. The assessment represents the culmination of three years of study and collaboration from researchers, agencies, non-profits, and institutions across the region. It was a large partnership effort to bring the best available science to the issue of climate change in Greater Yellowstone, with a focus on the lifeblood of our region: water.

This report is the first of its kind to consider climate change impacts at the ecosystem-scale, eschewing the political and jurisdictional boundaries that typically define such efforts and focusing instead on six major watersheds within Greater Yellowstone. The assessment explores past trends in climate change, current conditions, and projected future changes, taking the global — and often abstract — concepts associated with climate science and bringing them into focus at the regional level.

Broadly, the assessment reveals Greater Yellowstone can expect to get drier and warmer in coming years. That means warmer winters and hotter summers, earlier runoff, a longer growing season, and less overall precipitation. There are nuances, however, to how the changes will occur. More water will fall as rain instead of snow, having massive implications for our ability to count on snowpack to store water for us well into the year. The impacts on agriculture, recreation, public health, wildlife, and the economy are hard to overstate.

Uniquely, there is also a strong qualitative element to the assessment. GYC played a leadership role in conducting and analyzing over 40 interviews with stakeholders and Native American tribes who live and work throughout the region. This research allowed us to better understand people’s concerns and ideas about adapting to a changing climate. We shared the stakeholders’ input with the science team, allowing them to develop additional inquiries in response to real-world concerns. What resulted is a stakeholder-driven, science-informed climate assessment with significant input from the people of the region.

Within our conversations with Tribes and stakeholders, common themes emerged. Water was at the forefront of people’s concerns. There is also a strong sense of the need for collaboration to solve problems and a desire for policies to proactively take on climate impacts.

The opportunities for community input did not end with stakeholder interviews. The assessment is a guidebook for moving forward and lays the foundation for meaningful action that keeps the community centered in decision-making. You can expect to see community meetings, presentations, and additional opportunities for the public to share where they want to see projects and efforts directed. In the meantime, explore the report at

It is undeniable that the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment’s findings are sobering. But the assessment itself is something to be celebrated. It reveals an ability — and continuing desire — for people to work together across agencies, cultures, state lines, nations, and backgrounds to tackle complex challenges in service of the greater good. We certainly hope it will inspire anyone who reads it to do their part, no matter how big or small, to create a better, healthier, more livable world for ourselves and our children through local action.

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Charles Wolf Drimal is waters conservation coordinator with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.