Note: This blog post is about a recent road trip to Montana, British Columbia and Washington states.
As we drove through the entrance gate, the smoke hung over Lake McDonald. If my nose hadn’t belied the fact that it is indeed smoke, I would have thought it to be fog or a low-lying cloud. Then the orange signs confirmed it “Smoke ahead on the road.” The smoke had settled into the valley thickly, casting a haze against the towering mountains ahead.
It seems as if all of Montana is on fire this summer, with the smell of smoke evident as soon as we crossed the state line. I had been looking forward to this trip for months, as Glacier National Park is one of my all-time favorite destinations. I remembered my last visit 13 years ago vividly. The green meadows with wildflowers popping. The clear blue skies and the awesome grand peaks, glaciers, and lakes.
Visiting in late June, 2004, that visit, fires had never crossed my mind. Instead, snow and a landslide had been our biggest challenge. Towering banks of snow lay on either side of Logan Pass. We couldn’t even hike to Hidden Lake as feet of snow buried the trail. And we spent a whole day at St. Mary’s Lake waiting for a rock slide to be cleared from the Going-to-the Sun road so we could return to our campsite at Avalanche campground.
This time it’s not just the smoke that reminds me of how things are changing here at Glacier, it’s the acre upon acre of forest that’s burnt, trees scorched like matchsticks, especially on the east side of the park. Conversations with park rangers confirm that summers are getting warmer and hotter in a land that was once sculpted by enormous masses of moving ice.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking sign of climate change affecting this crown jewel are the photos. Founded in 1910, Glacier has 100 years of photos to remind us what once was, and our eyes to confirm to us what is now. During a recent hike to Grinnell Glacier, I stopped by the Many Glacier Hotel. The hallway is lined with black and white photos taken shortly after the park’s creation of its famous glaciers. Then photos taken in the last several years at the very same location.
It’s shocking. Many of the glaciers have receded to the point they are almost gone. Others are a tenth of the size they once were. All of this over the course of the last several decades. A park named for its landmark topography is looking at a future where there will be no glaciers left. And at the rate the glaciers are shrinking, it’s going to be in the not too distant future. The sadness I feel viewing these photos is overwhelming. I contemplate a day when children will come to visit and wonder how the park got its name.
And it’s not just in Montana at this one park. I spent a day in British Columbia just north of there and talked with the locals of Nelson, who said this is the driest, hottest summer they can remember. Now, I know one summer doesn’t confirm human-caused climate change. But combine that with the fact, that 33 million acres of forest were damaged or destroyed through a pine beetle epidemic in the 2000s. And contrast that with the fact that until 2000, British Columbia had never had a mountain pine beetle outbreak because their typically cold winters keep populations in check.
Something is afoot…
I want the the next generations of children to have glaciers to marvel upon. I want them to enjoy the smell of pine forests instead of smoke. I want them to have a planet that contributes to our good health, rather than destroying the living things around them.
Even if you have doubts about the causes of climate change, the evidence is overwhelming. We need to take action now to insure the future of our national parks, our forests, our lakes, and our glaciers.
It’s up to all of us. Let’s be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.