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Climate change could boost visitation to US National Parks by 2060

In silver lining news: the latest report from the U.S. National Park Service has found that increases in global temperature could boost tourism traffic to national parks from Alaska to Guam.

The report, released this week in the open access journal PLoS ONE, compared historical monthly mean air temperature information with data on park visitation between 1979 and 2013 at 340 parks. The team, led by natural resource scientist Nicholas Fisichelli, then contrasted projected future visitations between 2041 and 2060 with two climate-warming scenarios.

The result? Warmer temperatures put people in the mood to get outside. Visitation to America’s national parks generally increased as the mercury rose, the NPS study found.

Third-order polynomial glm relationship of historical (1979–2013) monthly mean temperature and monthly park visitation (proportion of annual).

Third-order polynomial glm relationship of historical (1979–2013) monthly mean temperature and monthly park visitation (proportion of annual).

But not too high. “Visitation numbers dropped off rapidly with increased temperature,” the report states. Anything above 25°C and it would seem that people lose to urge to get out in nature. “These results agree with other large-scale tourism studies suggesting an inverted u-shape relationship between monthly temperature and visitation/tourism.”

Overall, the NPS report predicts an eight to 23 per cent increase in visitors across the park system, especially the 282 parks classified as “temperature sensitive.” This could also mean some parks will increase the operating season by anywhere from two to four weeks or more to take advantage of the longer “shoulder” seasons of Spring and Fall.

Understanding the effects of a changing climate in America and how best to adopt to the shifts in temperature could go a long way towards ensuring the park system remains a viable recreational and economic opportunity for communities situated in or near the parks and the people who work there.

“Future climate change-driven shifts in visitation timing and volume will have consequences for both protected area management and local economies,” the report notes.

The 273 million visits to the national park system in 2013 alone resulted in $14.6 billion flowing into local communities, supporting over 238,000 jobs. Up to 40 per cent of these jobs are seasonal positions, typically taken by students and youth.

“A changing climate is likely to have cascading and complex effects on protected area visitation, management, and local economies,” the authors write.

“Recognition of the strong link between visitation and climate presents an opportunity to plan for the future and has two primary implications for protected area management and local services and economies: when and where people travel will change, and the types and timing of services and facilities will need to respond to changing demands.”

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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