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Greening National Parks

Posted by Andrew Engelson at Apr 17, 2009 10:29 AM |
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We often think of National Parks as a pristine environment. But according to several recent articles, Washington state's three national parks--Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades--have a huge carbon footprint.

According to an excellent article by Jeffrey Mayor in last month's Tacoma News Tribune, the three parks produce over 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The majority of pollution comes from visitor transportation. But other sources include the many miles employees need to travel, waste generated by vistors, park maintenance equipment, and the enegy needed to power visitor facilities. Another article covers the issues facing Olympic National Park here.

Because national parks have such a high profile and are one of the places where climate change impacts are often most visible (receding glaciers and damage from more intense winter storms are just two examples) the parks have a unique opportunity to educate visitors and also set an example on reducing emissions.

Western region parks are making a huge, and welcome change in carbon footprint policy.

In February, a meeting of the Pacific West region of national parks set a net goal of zero emissions at national parks by 2016--the 100th anniversary of the  the Park Service. Adding shuttle buses, more efficient service vehicles, and introducing new power sources are just a few moves the parks are considering. This may in fact become national policy, based on some recent news regarding Park Service management.

According to the blog National Park Traveler, the Obama administration is ready to nominate Pacific West region director Jon Jarvis--who set the ambitious zero-emission goal--as director of the Park Service. I think this is fantastic news, as it sets someone who is a strong advocate of conservation and science to head the agency. Jarvis was once superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, and he has spoken frequently about the role of the Park Service in confronting climate change.

Among the steps Washington's parks are considering to reduce impacts:

  • Shuttle buses to popular location such as Hurricane Ridge (Olympic) and Paradise (Mount Rainier). Mount Rainier currently runs a shuttle, but acknowledges it could do more to make it better utilized and efficient

  • Making more energy-efficient buildings. Sunrise Lodge at Mount Rainier is a terribly inefficient building, and could use new insulation, windows, etc.

  • New energy sources. The Rialto Beach restrooms at Olympic National Park are powered by solar panels and a small wind turbine.

  • Reducing "vampire energy"--energy wasted by computers and chargers when not in use.

  • Introducing more efficient vehicle fleets. At North Cascades National Park, where the headquarters is 50 miles away from the park, employee travel has a huge impact. Park superintendent Chip Jenkins drives a hybrid and would like to see more used by park employees.

  • Educating visitors about importance of recycling, waste reduction and conservation--and about climate change's impact on park ecology.

The New Tribune article has a link to a carbon footprint calculator so you can see just what impact your next trip to a national park has.