That’s what the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and Greater Yellowstone Coalition said in a report this week and during a conference call on Tuesday.
“The last decade was the hottest on record,” said Stephen Saunders of Climate Organization.
It was 1.4 degrees above the region’s 20th century average, and above the global average by 1 degree, said their news release.
A 9.7 degree increase would transform the ecosystem, Saunders said.
The report said many of Yellowstone’s small lakes and kettle ponds already are drying up. Scientists noted between 1997 and 2007 that mountain meadows in southwestern Montana and around Jackson had given way to more bare ground.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that temperatures just 4 to 5 degrees higher could leave 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal life in conditions far outside their comfort zone, making them likely to be at increasingly higher risk of extinction, the report said.
There will be significant loss of whitebark pine trees that produce seeds important to grizzly bears. Native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and other cutthroat subspecies will struggle in water that is warmer, but lower in quantity, said Scott Christensen of the Coalition.
Aspen trees will suffer “staggering losses” too due to higher emissions, Saunders said.
Reduced emissions would lower the temperature increase to 5.6 degrees in Yellowstone by 2070. The message is: Don’t allow the future to unfold as it is predicted; slow the emissions rate, Saunders said.
In some instances, restrictions on anglers have been employed to protect trout forced to cope with reduced stream flow and warmer water.
“The more we let emissions go up,” Saunders said, “the more restrictions there will be.”
Still, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is not a major contributor to green house gases, said Jeff Welsch of the Coalition.
And, core areas within the ecosystem, such as Yellowstone itself and wilderness areas, will afford wildlife options to finding suitable habitat, Christensen said.
Strategies include protecting wildlife migration routes so those migrating animals can reach their seasonal ranges. Another is supporting efforts by Yellowstone Park staff and other involved parties removing lake trout in Yellowstone Lake so cutthroats have the chance to repopulate the lake and its tributaries.
Water and water quality also need protections as snowpack lessens and spring runoff arrives earlier, Christensen said.
New partnerships are needed among stakeholders in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and with those partnerships, the means to predict ensuing climate-related events should be improved. Land management collaboration likely will be crucial in the future, Christensen said.
Saunders advocated allowing national parks and other government entities to use entrance fees for programs to address climate change.
Reducing car emissions that trap heat would help, but the two groups have not examined that strategy at this time. “Certainly it’s an idea that is worth exploring in the future,” Christensen said. “All that takes is money.”
Yellowstone had record high temperatures over the last weekend. “And, from all appearances it is only just the beginning,” Welsch said.
The organizations’ report, “Greater Yellowstone in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption,” includes new temperature projections and analyses. It also summarizes numerous peer-reviewed scientific and government climate studies as well as consultations with scientists working in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the news release said.
To view the report, go to www.greateryellowstone.climatechange or www.rockymountainclimate.org/programs_14.htm.