2020-2030 Disappearances Notwithstanding …

There’s More to Glacier National Park Than ‘Just’ its 25 Vanishing Glaciers

There’s more to Glacier National Park than its iconic name or the legendary glaciers that some mistakenly believe are its principal namesake.

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Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright briefs SEJ conference visitors.

That’s the message from park managers and rangers these days working the trans-boundary “Crown of the Continent” traversing the Montana/Canada border. They express frustration with what they see as a media focus zeroing-in on the very real likelihood of disappearing glaciers … and missing other dire changes they see coming to the park in a warming world.

As part of a day-long field trip from Missoula to Glacier National Park at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) recent annual conference, Park Service officials emphasized to visiting reporters that the century-old park’s name is a bit of a misnomer: The park is named for the glacial carvings that formed its mountainous, lush landscape, and not for its remaining, but thinning, glaciers.

“My concern is that when you read only articles about disappearing glaciers,” Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright said, “it’s a great hook, but you have to dig deeper to the bigger issues.”

Those bigger issues include struggling mammals, fish, declining snow pack, and plants moving higher up the park’s mountains … insofar as they actually can before encountering a rocky and unwelcoming terrain. And in addition to the disappearance of the park’s remaining glaciers lies the concerns surrounding the loss of snowmelt and the impact on dwindling water supplies in a growing West thirsty for water.

A 1.5- to 2-degree F warming of the average yearly temperature at Glacier over the past 40 years has brought irreversible changes, most noticeable in winter; data point to far fewer night-time lows and far fewer deep (0 – minus-40 degree F) lows. For instance, the elusive wolverines rely on the shrinking snowpack for dens, and bull trout suffer with alterations in the drainages into streams.

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Reporters gather around Glacier Park Superintendent for one of several briefings.

None of this emphasis on non-glacier losses counters the widely accepted scientific judgment that the park’s glaciers indeed are melting, various Park Service and academic experts emphasized during the SEJ meeting. About 25 of the park’s glaciers remain, mostly in remote areas. That total compares to an estimated 150 glaciers in the park in 1850, the end of the “Little Ice Age,” and about 50 (37 of them named) in 1968. Those remaining, a Glacier National Park “Resource Bulletin” says, “are mere remnants of what they once were.”

Computer modeling indicates those too will be gone between 2020 and 2030, said U.S. Geological Survey researcher Erich Peitzsch, who is based at the survey’s field station at the park. “We’re seeing the last of them,” he told the media group.

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