The Impact of Climate Change on Outdoor Recreation
When we hear “climate change,” what comes to mind? Sweltering summers? Melting icebergs? Increasing numbers of wildfires? How about the impact of climate change on outdoor recreation?
It seems we are having record temperatures year after year, and that’s cause we are – 15 of the 16 warmest years in the recorded history of our planet have occurred since 2001. But so what? Why should we care?
The facts are undeniable about climate change, what causes it, and why we are seeing such rapid and extreme changes in our planet. But in order to get people to care, the impacts have to hit close to home. Are you a hiker? Well you’re affected. Are you a SCUBA diver? You too. Skier? Yep.
And it’s not just overseas or way up in the Arctic. Our forests and mountains right here in the United States are changing rapidly. As a hiker and outdoor enthusiast you should care about the impact climate change is having on your beloved stomping grounds.
In this blog post we share some examples of how climate change is and will impact the outdoor activities that we love, in hopes that it inspires all of us to make some changes. Whether that be carpooling, eating less meat, buying less stuff that you don’t need, showing up to vote for candidates who believe in climate change, or donating to important NGOs, we can all be doing more.
I hope this post helps shift the discussion away from arguing about the facts and scientific graphs. Instead I want to spark a more practical conversation about the impacts of climate change on outdoor recreation and why we as outdoor enthusiasts should care.
Photo Cred: Ian D. Keating
••• 4 ways Climate Change is Affecting the Outdoor Environment •••
According to the United States Geological Survey, “the higher elevations of the Northern Rockies have experienced three times the global average temperature increase over the past century.” As a result, glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are melting at an unprecedented rate, and within the next century it is predicted that our Rockies glaciers will be gone.
Andrews Glacier in just one of the glaciers in the Rocky Mountain National Park that is predicted to be gone within the next century. Photo Cred: David Fulmer
Climate changes pose a huge risk for the wildlife and species that live in these changing environments, some of which are endangered species. As the temperatures change, so does food availability and the regions that animals can survive in. In some cases, animals have to move to completely new territory to search for food, causing competition for resources among species. The Arctic fox is one example of a species struggling to survive as a result of new competition. As southern latitudes have gotten warmer, the red fox has moved north into regions that were previously too cold and is now fighting with the Arctic fox for limited food.
Photo Cred: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
The devastating mountain pine beetle spreads faster in warmer climates and is destroying trees at an unprecedented rate. Generally the beetle only reproduces yearly but with the warming weather, the beetles are developing and reproducing faster than ever before. The beetles build tunnels underneath the bark of pine trees and introduce a fungus that blocks nutrients and water from being transported throughout the tree trunk. They attack in large numbers and are completely overtaking forests.
Warming climates also mean wildfires – whether human caused or natural – are more destructive. In 2016, three devastating fires in Idaho burned over 244,000 acres and cost Americans taxpayers more than $4 million.
Five lightning caused fires burned more than 15,200 acres of Bitterfoot National Forest in 2011. Fighting fires also takes an excessive amount of water, 530,000 gallons of water were needed to put the fire out. Photo credit by Forest Service Northern Region
••• How Climate Change Affects your Favorite Outdoor Activities •••
From surfers to divers to snorkelers to those of us that just enjoy laying back on the beach, climate change is affecting our oceans and beaches simultaneously. As glaciers melt, ocean currents shift, and our beloved surf breaks may disappear. With sea level rise, the average wave height in some areas is getting smaller.
When Kim, Bearfoot Theory’s content director, first moved to Los Angeles, one of her favorite beaches was Malibu’s Broad Beach. Due to rising ocean levels Broad Beach has vanished into a sliver. According to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change,”a rise of up to two feet as predicted last year could easily double or more within the next century.” Depending on the slope of the beach, every inch of sea-level rise claims an average of 50 inches of land.
Our oceans are also getting warmer and more acidic. Even though we can’t tell when we are swimming, little ocean animals can. Basically anything with a shell – oysters, clams, and all of the organisms that are the building blocks of coral reefs – are at major risk. Increased CO-2 in the water makes it harder for the animals to form shells, and without shells, they are toast – and that’s why so many of our reefs are dying. Without our reefs, all of the biggest animals in the ocean that depend on them, as well as the humans that need them for food, are in trouble…
This picture here I took in Zanzibar last year. All of the coral is dead. Really spectacular SCUBA diving and snorkeling destinations are becoming few and far between.
Dead coral off the coast of Zanzibar
Boaters / Fishermen
Many boaters, fishers, and water-skiers are finding that lake water lines are getting lower and lower. Take Lake Mead for instance, shown in the photo below. With lower annual precipitation levels, climate change some lakes are drying up completely. While this affects boaters by creating dangerous obstacles in the water, it’s also a scary sign for water supply.
Lake Mead water levels are at an all-time low since it’s construction in 1936.
Hikers & Bikers
Our hiking and biking trails are also changing. Both and I Kim experienced huge burn areas on our respective John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikes. These areas were void of shade and wildlife, and will take years to regrow to their original beauty. Trails in these areas can often be impassable due to fallen trees or landslides. On long-distance hikes like the PCT and Appalachian Trail, water availability is also becoming more scarce making those dry stretches longer and lugging more water on your back a necessity. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, we are also likely to see higher rates of lyme disease since ticks thrive in warmer temperatures.
Deschutes National Forest along the Pacific Crest Trail offers little sun protection and little wildfire due to previous forest fires that have destroyed the area’s vegetation.
Skiers & Snowboarders
Despite the west having record snow fall this winter, small ski communities are closing around the United States due to long-term declines in snow pack. Last year was the first time since the 2010-2011 ski season that Mt. Waterman ski lifts in the Angeles National Forest opened. Powder days are decreasing and the seasons are getting shorter. If you are interesting in the impact of climate change on our ski slopes, we recommend checking out Protect Our Winters, a group working to mobilize the snow sports community against climate change. Take the pledge to commit to the POW Seven initiative, which offers the seven most effective ways to take action against climate change.
Photo Cred: heitere_fahne