EPA has some gloomy news for skiers
If you’re a skier and you thought this past winter was warm and dry, you won’t like the news in the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest global warming report to the United Nations. The U.S. Climate Action Report 2002 predicts snowpack levels will decline drastically across most of the West’s mountains during coming decades.Those reductions would significantly shift peak runoff times and reduce average stream flows in the spring and summer. Entire mountain ecosystems may disappear, including coastal marshes, as well as alpine tundra and high mountain meadows in the Colorado Rockies, the report concludes.Perhaps the most dire prediction for skiers and the ski industry is that snows are expected to come later and melt sooner. One climate model described in the report show that, measured against a 1961-1990 baseline, April 1 snowpack levels could decline by 40 to 80 percent during the next 30 years. By the end of the century, there may not be any April 1 snowpack to speak of, at least in the Sierra Nevada and the Southern Rockies, according to the report.But an alternate model shows some regional variation, with snowpack levels dropping drastically in the Pacific Northwest, Sierra Nevada and the Southern Rockies while remaining steady in the central Rockies.Shrinking snowpacks are expected despite the fact that precipitation overall is forecast to increase. But more of it will be in the form of rain, with far-reaching implications not only for skiers, but for "water management, including flood protection, power production, water quality, and the availability of water resources for irrigation, hydropower, communities, industry and the sustainability of natural habitats and species."The New York Times characterized the new report as a "stark shift" in the Bush administration’s stance, for the first time acknowledging that human actions mainly the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for global warming. As a result, the report concludes, the United States will see significant changes during the next few decades, including disruptions in snow-fed water supplies, more heat waves and the disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes."Some of the goods and services lost through the disappearance or fragmentation of natural ecosystems are likely to be costly or impossible to replace," the report concludes.But there is no call for action in the report. Rather, the EPA says there is little that can be done to avert the consequences of past greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the emphasis is on adapting to the coming changes. The report points out that the U.S. already is able to sustain economic activity across a wide variation of climate types, ranging from Arctic cold in Alaska to tropical heat in Texas."Because of the momentum in the climate system and natural climate variability, adapting to a changing climate is inevitable. The question is whether we adapt poorly or well," according to the report.For skiers and snowboarders, that could mean getting enthusiastic about water skiing and surfing. So far, the Colorado ski industry, with the exception of the Aspen Skiing Company, has not been eager to acknowledge the long-term implications of climate change, and neither has the Forest Service until recently. The agency did mention changing climate patterns as a factor in its recent analysis of the Cuchara Ski Area.The EPA’s latest report could open some eyes and may trigger some changes in the way we plan for the long-term future of the industry and sport. For example, it may not make sense to permit ski area expansions at lower elevations if those areas aren’t likely to see much snow in coming decades. Instead, the sport and industry may be better served by trying to determine where the snow will be, and shifting focus toward those areas.There have, of course, already been some shifts in the ski industry that could help buffer the effect of climate change. For one thing, snowmaking technology has improved, and the majority of skier visits already occur during the central part of the season, from late December through late March. And resorts have become less dependent on ski ticket sales for revenues, looking instead at real estate development and summer activities to generate income.The thought of less snow and a shorter ski season is probably not a pleasant one for most people involved in the ski business, but the EPA report also highlights some of the potentially beneficial effects of global warming, including a longer growing season that may increase agricultural production and speed forest growth.According to the Times, some observers were surprised that much of the report’s language remained intact after the oil industry led a charge to moderate the language relating to the causes of global warming during a comment period last year.Car manufacturers and other trade groups have continued to run advertising and lobbying campaigns targeting the science behind global warming, the Times reported.To view the EPA report online, go to http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/publications/car/
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