Highway workers inspected a washed-out bridge along the Yellowstone River near Gardiner, Montana, on June 15, 2022. More than 10,000 tourists were evacuated from America's oldest national park after unprecedented flooding.
Preparing for the worst
As the need to deal with a rapidly changing climate grows, Yellowstone National Park and the National Park Service look to the future to plan for different scenarios of climate change. Bruce Stein, a chief scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, collaborated with the Park Service on a 2021 climate planning report. Relative to other federal agencies, the group is "at the forefront," he said.
But he was also caught off guard. When he trained Yellowstone National Park staff on climate planning a few years ago, they focused on the "features" that attract tourists to Yellowstone, such as bison and wolves. Things like roads, bridges, and houses being washed away were completely out of their minds at the time.
"Even though we tried our best to predict the extent of the disaster, it took everyone by surprise," Stein said.
"We're starting to gradually see situations that are unexpected and often worse than the worst-case scenario expected."
Because of the recent floods, Yellowstone National Park and small towns in southwestern Montana will be forced to rethink the quality of their infrastructure, or possibly eventually rebuild it after the next flood.
"It's clear that our infrastructure is not fit for climate change," Whitlock said. “The fact that these roads are in jeopardy, massive landslides, houses being washed away, obviously means we’re not fully considering the impact of climate change on land use and infrastructure. We need to do better at that. Because the catastrophe we’re facing right now is The price is a tragedy."
Yellowstone National Park has taken inspiration from climate planning to consider the now washed-out North Entrance Road that once transported visitors from the park's popular North Entrance Gardner Park to Mammoth Hot Springs ) headquarters. Park superintendents said at a news conference that the road would not be built in its original location, citing impending changes.
“I think it’s a smart, far-sighted approach,” Rodman said. [The principals] are very aware of the potential impacts of climate change that need to be considered when planning infrastructure projects. I think recent events have highlighted the significance of these effects. "
Likewise, Denali National Park in Alaska is battling road closures caused by thawing permafrost and is exploring multiple options for road repair, including bridging landslides or rerouting roads.
As climate planners, Rodman and her colleagues grapple with these issues every day. "It affects everything, so how do you come up with thoughtful approaches with limited resources?" What's the most effective thing you can do? "
For the millions of people who love national parks and Yellowstone, those who live in the region, and those whose summer travel plans have been shattered, the unprecedented extreme event may bring some kind of sadness, even resentment.
Stein advises the public to try and accept the surprise, although watching our favorite places quickly engulfed can be heartbreaking and hard to swallow.
"Of course, change is happening at a faster rate right now. It's hard and heart-wrenching for us that these changes are all due to climate impacts, of which human behavior and intervention may be to blame.