Climate Change: What Does It Mean for Parks and Recreation Management?

By Sasidharan, Vinod; Yarnal, Careen et al. | Parks & Recreation, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Climate Change: What Does It Mean for Parks and Recreation Management?


Sasidharan, Vinod, Yarnal, Careen, Yarnal, Brent, Godbey, Geoffrey, Parks & Recreation


Scientists agree that climate changes occurred during the 20th century. The Earth's surface temperature rose 1 deg F, with most of that warming happening at night. Spring came earlier and fall left later. The higher temperatures caused sea level to rise, mountain glaciers to recede, and permafrost to melt. The warmer air held more moisture, so cloud amounts, precipitation totals, and heavy downpours increased.

Scientists also agree that the rate and magnitude of climate change will increase in the coming century. Temperatures could rise as much as 8 deg F worldwide by 2100. Some areas will get much wetter, while others will get drier. Snowlines will move to higher latitudes and higher altitudes. Shorelines will continue to advance inland. Winter seasons will be shorter and dominated more often by rain than by snow. Summers will be warmer and often wetter. Streams will rise in many areas, fall in others, and change the times of high flow and low flow in most places.

In response to these changes, scientists expect plant and animal species to migrate poleward, upslope, and inland, either moving familiar ecosystems or more likely - changing their composition. Some will not be able to migrate through large urban areas and will diminish or disappear. Warm-water fish will replace cold-water species in many lakes and streams. Some plants and animals will die off and others - most notably nuisance species - will thrive.

While climate change becomes stronger and more noticeable, society will be changing. Global population should double during the 21st century, increasing the demand on global food systems and water resources. Yet, experts expect average wealth to rise, increasing the demand for goods and services. Urban development will continue to swallow small towns, farmland, and rural areas. Scientists think that in many--if not in most--areas, climate change will be much less important than social and economic change.

Despite the importance of social change, people will have to adapt to climate change. On the one hand, if adaptation is simply a reaction to the impacts of climate change, then climate change will probably be costly. On the other hand, if people and places plan their adaptation strategies carefully, then they will be able to minimize costs and take advantage of opportunities provided by climate change. Climate change wil lmake some people, some areas, and some sectors of scoiety rich.

This article explores the likely positive, as well as the negative, impacts of climate change on parks and recreation. It acknowledges that climate change is just one source of stress that managers will have to deal with in the coming decades. It also emphasizes the need to develop management strategies that lower the costs of adapting to climate change and that increase the chances of benefiting from climate change.

Climate Change Impacts

Climate will become more important to outdoor recreation activity, lessening predictability of outdoor events, reshaping outdoor dress, behavior, and duration of activity, and ultimately altering attitudes toward being outdoors. Table 1 shows how climate change will negatively and positively affect a range of recreation activities. For example, wetland loss from sealevel rise will reduce habitat and limit hunting, fishing, and bird watching in coastal areas. Many areas of the country will lose cool-water fisheries because of rising water temperatures. Hikers and mountain bikers may find meadows with fewer wildflowers, and forests will be damaged by pests, diseases, and nuisance species. Ski seasons will be shorter in many areas and eliminated in others. In contrast, tennis players, golfers, boaters, and other participants in outdoor summer sports will enjoy a longer season. Warm-water fishermen will find more places to fish.

There will be similarities in climate change impacts on parks and recreation across the United States. Still, regional differences will be important.

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