“In the United States, Yellowstone National Park is the only place bison and wolves can be seen in great numbers. Because of the park, these animals survive. Yellowstone was crucial to bringing back bison, reintroducing gray wolves, and restoring trumpeter swans, elk, and grizzly bears — all five species driven toward extinction found refuge here.
Bison in Yellowstone.
But the Yellowstone of charismatic megafauna and of stunning geysers that four million visitors a year travel to see is changing before the eyes of those who know it best. Researchers who have spent years studying, managing, and exploring its roughly 3,400 square miles say that soon the landscape may look dramatically different.
Over the next few decades of climate change, the country’s first national park will quite likely see increased fire, less forest, expanding grasslands, shallower, warmer waterways, and more invasive plants — all of which may alter how, and how many, animals move through the landscape. Ecosystems are always in flux, but climate change is transforming habitats so quickly that many plants and animals may not be able to adapt well or at all.
Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is one of the Unesco World Heritage sites threatened by climate change. It is home to some of the country’s oldest weather stations, including one at Mammoth Hot Springs. Data from the park and surrounding area has helped scientists understand and track climate change in the Western United States.
Since 1948, the average annual temperature in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — an area of 34,375 square miles that includes the park, national forests, and Grand Teton National Park — has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers report that winter is, on balance, 10 days shorter and less cold.”