Climate Change: Ecological Impacts of Climate Change in Teton County

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By Trevor Bloom and Corinna Riginos, PhD, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming and Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative

If you ski, snowshoe or snowmobile, you’ve no doubt noticed the changes. Some places just aren’t getting snow like they used to, and snow is disappearing faster in the spring. River levels are dropping sooner in the summer, and July temperatures are hitting record highs. Climate change is affecting everything from sea levels to extreme weather in all parts of the globe - including here in Teton County.

The situation is serious, but we still have time to act, if we don’t delay.

AN ERA OF CHANGE

Averaged across all of Teton County, temperatures have risen since the 1970s. For example, Teton County’s average minimum temperature has in-creased more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the early 1990s. This might not sound like a huge change, but it is actually a startling number — greater than the global average change and, ecologically speaking, a significant increase. Mountain ecosystems such as ours are more affected by climate change than the planet as a whole. This is because the rate of warming is amplified with increased latitude or elevation, through a phenomenon known as “elevation-dependent warming.”

One of the greatest contributing factors to elevation-dependent warm-ing is the “snow-albedo feedback.” Albedo is the measure of reflectivity of solar radiation. When temperatures rise, more precipitation falls as rain and less as snow. That reduces the overall albedo of the Earth’s surface. As a result, more of the sun’s radiation is absorbed, increasing surface temperatures, so more rain falls instead of snow, creating a positive feedback loop that magnifies warming.

These ongoing changes in climate are likely to have sweeping impacts on nearly every aspect of the Teton region’s ecology, scenery, recreation, and wild character. Below is a brief overview of the changes that have occurred and will likely occur in the future, followed by a snapshot of recent findings contributing to understanding the consequences of climate change for Teton County.

IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Changes that are already occurring:

  • At least in part, declines in moose numbers are most likely due to warmer conditions.

  • Widespread outbreaks of mountain pine beetle and blister rust have caused large numbers of pine trees to die.

  • Snowpack conditions have be-come less reliable for winter tourism and recreation at the start and end of the season.

Possible future impacts of climate change include:

  • Declines and/or local extinctions among cold-dependent species such as moose, pikas, wolverines, and alpine plants such as alpine forget-me-not and spotted saxifrage.

  • Declines in native fish, including the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and the many birds and mammals that eat them.

  • Hot, dry conditions conducive to much larger and more frequent forest and shrubland fires. Eco-logically, this could lead to large-scale declines in forest cover and increases in invasive cheatgrass and other non-natives. Economically, it could lead to rising costs of fire-fighting.

  • Negative impacts to tourism and recreation due to more frequent fires and poor air quality and visibility, reduced snowpack, and fish-ing closures.

To learn more about climate change, recent scientific findings specific to this region, and what we can do as a community to help mitigate these changes, read the whole article in Mosaic.

Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Candidate Questionnaire

My platform is Economy, Environment, Experience.

Jackson Hole’s economy can never be healthier than its environment. We cannot take either for granted. Economically, we need to begin preparing for the inevitable recession. Environmentally, as we grow, we need to be great stewards of our ecosystem.

Experience has two legs. First, decades of studying Jackson gives me a singular depth and breadth of knowledge. Second, I served eight years as an elected trustee of St. John’s Medical Center. Combined, these experiences will allow me to quickly become an effective town council member.

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Jonathan's Reading of the Jackson / Teton County Comprehensive Plan

The essence of the Comp Plan’s Vision is its first six words: “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem...” The remaining fifteen words are the plan’s rationale: “...in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” If we preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem, we’ll ensure a healthy environment, community, and economy. If we fail, all three will be jeopardized.

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Mosaic Magazine Release

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In 2012, the Jackson Town Council and Teton County's Board of County Commissioners adopted a joint Comprehensive Land Use Plan. By any standard, the plan’s Vision Statement is extraordinary: “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.”

Mosaic’s goal is to help bring this vision to life.

Mosaic’s genesis lies with Tetons 2020, a group assembled in the spring of 2017 by my Charture Institute. Tetons 2020’s members – including Jackson's Mayor and the county commission chair, the heads of all of the region’s federal lands agencies, and the leaders of many of its conservation groups – came together to explore how we might help turn the Comp Plan’s vision into reality. During our discussions, we realized that, until the community has a baseline assessment of our ecosystem’s health, we will never be able to judge how well it is being preserved and protected. Mosaic is a first step in that process.