The Adirondack Park is not the traditional face of global warming.
The go-to images that illustrate our planet’s rising temperature are the rising ocean around the Florida Keys, coral reefs fading or glaciers melting into rushing rivers. But the Adirondacks have suffered from our rising thermostat, and the trend is continuing.
Algae is growing in the region’s warming lakes. Invasive species are creeping north, threatening forests, animals and water bodies. Activities like skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing are threatened as winters get warmer and less snowy. These changes are infringing on an Adirondacks tourism economy in which visitors spent $1.4 billion last year.
A new United Nations report released Monday warns that without “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the year 2040 could look very bleak. The planet is on track to warm 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) by that time, and that’s a conservative estimate. It could warm even more, and many worry we’ll see doomsday scenarios not just in coastal regions but also in the Adirondacks.
With the United States one of the leading producers of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, many state and local leaders are concerned that the federal government is not taking global warming seriously and is taking leaps backwards from curbing this fate.
Basil Seggos, state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, said the report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be required reading for all world leaders, considering the catastrophic consequences that are highlighted.
“The report, authored by leading climate scientists from around the world, contains compelling evidence of the accelerated pace of severe economic and environmental impacts associated with rising waters and a warming planet,” Seggos said in an emailed statement to The Post-Star. “While the federal government reneges on our country’s commitments to combat climate change, Governor (Andrew) Cuomo is advancing a forward-thinking agenda focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously growing a green economy rooted in sustainability. Our nation should be leading the global response to climate change, not compounding the problem.”
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, agreed with Seggos.
Woodworth said he’s concerned about the federal government’s rollbacks on clean air and clean power and proposed changes to fuel efficiency standards.
“There’s a lot of ways that we can mitigate the impacts that the United Nations is projecting in its report,” Woodworth said in a phone interview. “But right now, this nation is going in reverse in terms of carbon production. Instead of trying to stave off the worst consequences of that United Nations report, we are actually exacerbating the problem with our current policies.”
So what’s at risk in the Adirondacks?
Forests, habitats, birds, animals
The DEC says the iconic boreal bogs, alpine tundra and spruce-fir forests of the Adirondacks are threatened by rising temperatures. Woodworth said these habitats are the southern-most extension of Canada’s ecological zone.
They require cold weather to thrive, and as winter weakens its grasp each year, the landscape will change. But it’s not just people who are at risk of losing these scenic spots.
The Adirondack Council said birds, like the gray jay, Bicknell’s thrush and the endangered spruce grouse will lose their habitat, as will mammals like bobcats, fishers and pine martens.
While global warming hurts some species, it helps other flourish — like ticks.
“Just think, one impact that I know is largely attributable to the warming of our New York climate is the explosive growth of ticks and tick-borne diseases,” Woodworth said. “You think back 20 years, we didn’t have a tick problem like we have now, but the warming winters have made it more a situation where ticks can overwinter.”
Not only is that bad for the people who recreate outside, giving them a greater chance of catching something like Lyme disease, it also has an affect on creatures like moose.
Woodworth said the moose population is doing well in the Adirondacks, but it’s being threatened again by winter ticks, which congregate on the mammal’s skin in the thousands, sometimes depleting it of so much blood, it dies.
Invasive species that might normally die off in cold winters are also marching north.
Just this summer, the invasive spotted lanterfly, which decimates some crops like apples, hops and grapes, was found in Albany County.
The hemlock woolly adelgid, which was found last year on a few trees on Prospect Mountain in Lake George, could wipe out the region’s prolific hemlocks. Emerald ash borer is decimating ash trees across the Northeast.
Climate change has also generated intense storms, and more of them.
Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said the region has seen some heavy rainstorms that can cause more runoff into water bodies. Those nutrients, combined with warmer water temperatures, are a recipe for more algal blooms, he said.
Not all algae is bad, but in the past few years New York’s water bodies have developed more harmful algal blooms, also known as cyanobacteria. There have been more than 140 water bodies affected by blooms this year, according to the DEC’s harmful algal bloom archives.
Toxic blooms impact drinking water supplies, lake recreation and tourist economies. Moreau Lake, Saratoga Lake, Cossayuna Lake, Summit Lake and Dead Lake had blooms this year.
There are also freshwater species that need cold waters to thrive, including brook trout and salmon. They could disappear, leaving aquatic invasive species that threaten the food chain to cozy up in the warm water.
“There’s been some discussion that maybe the Asian clam in Lake George is such a species,” Navitsky said. “They never thought it would be able to colonize in a lake that is susceptible to freezing and cold winters, but clearly they’ve been able to colonize and establish themselves.”
As winter looks more like spring, the Adirondack Council said it wonders if people will look at their skis, bobsleds, snowshoes and ice climbing gear as wall decorations from a bygone era.
While ski resorts can make snow, Woodworth said it will be more difficult as the climate warms, producing more thaw periods.
“We get snow now, but we often have several mid-winter thaws that basically eliminate a lot of the snow that you have,” he said. “It’s not all melted in the Adirondacks, but you lose an awful lot of the snow base, and that’s critical for cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.”
It’s a huge economic threat, too, to a park that saw 12.4 million visitors last year spending $1.4 billion and generating $178 million in state and local taxes.
Global net human-caused carbon emissions have to be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, according to a release from the United Nations.
“Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working groups, in a press release.
Actions to limit global warming are happening, the panel added, but they need to be ramped up.
State agencies and local environmental groups are working together on the issue. There are programs to encourage renewable energy projects, combat harmful algal blooms and protect and preserve important habitat, to name a few.
While those programs are important and at the forefront of this global threat, nature has a way of playing a part, too, healing itself. Woodworth pointed to upstate New York’s trees.
Trees are good at sequestering carbon, sucking it up into their bodies from leaves to roots and even burying it into the ground. New York state is about 63 percent forested, Woodworth said, as much of the farmland in the southern tier has reverted back to woodland. It’s not the answer, but it helps, he said.
“In the Adirondack Park we can make the park energy neutral, preserve the wild beauty and ecological integrity that make it a world-class natural resource and tourism destination, and be a model of a climate-smart public-private conservation landscape,” said William C. Janeway, the executive director of the Adirondack Council, in a statement. “The IPCC report demonstrates why it is imperative that we do this, while at the same time help the park’s people and wildlife cope, adjust and thrive together, with inevitable changes.”