Monitoring Rapid Climate Change in High-Elevation Parks in the Western United States

Created: 3/12/2013 - Updated: 3/02/2020


In 2010, the National Park Service (NPS) received several million dollars to address climate change impacts to park resources including planning, adaptation, mitigation, and monitoring. The NPS Inventory & Monitoring (I&M) Program strategy includes monitoring indicators of climate change impacts on park natural resources, which will be used to facilitate adaptation planning and management of park resources. In 2010, three high-elevation NPS I&M networks – the Greater Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Upper Columbia – began reviewing their existing monitoring plans and partnerships with the intent of developing a strategy for the networks to monitor climate change impacts and their effects on high-elevation NPS parklands.


In 2010, the NPS released a Climate Change Response Program (CCRP) strategy, which provides guidance and direction for addressing climate change impacts on parklands. The goals of the CCRP strategy include enhancing the existing NPS I&M Program to include monitoring of climate-sensitive indicators. The information obtained from the enhanced monitoring will be used to track changes in park resources to facilitate adaptation planning and management. The initial priorities include building upon existing monitoring and strengthening interagency cooperation and coordination. The NPS plans to work with the Department of Interior (DOI) Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), which provide the organizational framework for collaboration on enhanced monitoring.

In fiscal year 2010, three high-elevation NPS I&M networks, the Greater Yellowstone Network (GRYN), Rocky Mountain Network (ROMN), and Upper Columbia Basin Network (UCBN), received funding from the CCRP to begin reviewing their existing monitoring plans and partnerships in the context of climate change. The three NPS I&M networks are part of the Great Northern LCC (GNLCC), which encompasses western Montana, northern Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, almost all of Wyoming, and southern British Columbia. All three networks participated in a two-day workshop designed to explore ecological responses to climate change, develop criteria and preliminary monitoring priorities, and explore opportunities for partnerships. Directly following the workshop, a strategy and work plan for the three I&M networks was developed, which included a list of high priority indicators of climate change to monitor.


In May 2010, a workshop focused on climate change in high elevation parks in the GNLCC was held to engage managers from high-elevation parks with partners and scientists from different agencies and academia. The workshop had three main objectives: (1) enhance participants’ understanding of projected climate changes and potential impacts on high-elevation natural resources; (2) engage parks, networks, and other key staff in developing multi-year strategies and work plans for implementing long-term monitoring of indicators of climate change; and (3) identify opportunities for enhancing existing monitoring and analysis to support future adaptation efforts. The primary focus of the workshop was the 12 high elevation park units within the Upper Columbia, Greater Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain networks. Participants in the workshop included managers, scientists, and university faculty from the NPS, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), State of Wyoming, Montana State University, the Sonoran Institute, Colorado State University, and the National Ecological Observatory Network, among others. Four products resulted from the efforts of this workshop, including a synthesis of climate change impacts on the parks, increased knowledge of partnership opportunities, updated conceptual diagrams for climate change impacts to high elevation systems, and a preliminary prioritization of long-term monitoring projects for climate change response.

Also during the workshop over 50 potential indicators of ecological response to climate change were considered. Following the workshop, a subset of high-priority potential indicators was identified, with emphasis placed on seven vital signs currently monitored with the greatest potential for serving as good indicators of climate change, being cost-effective, and having significant value for park management. Vital signs included alpine, sagebrush-steppe, and grassland vegetation and soils; climate-sensitive species (e.g., five-needle pines or white pines and pika); phenology; and snowpack monitoring.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The long-term strategy for enhanced monitoring for climate change in high-elevation parks is focused on the seven vital signs and includes:

  1. Use the Global Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) methodology and network to increase the spatial extent of monitoring alpine vegetation and soils.
  2. Increase the spatial extent of monitoring vegetation and soils in sagebrush-steppe and grassland, shrubland, and woodland habitats.
  3. Increase spatial extent of pika monitoring.
  4. Increase spatial extent of whitebark and limber-pine communities.
  5. Implement weather and climate reporting in all Upper Columbia Basin high-elevation park units.
  6. Implement phenology and snowpack monitoring for high-elevation parks using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS).
  7. Deliver peer-reviewed communication products that explain the ecological impacts of climate change and management implications.

The three I&M networks (GRYN, ROMN, and UCBN) anticipate receiving $350,000 annually to support enhanced monitoring of the ecological response to climate change. The three networks will work with the USFWS and other partners to implement and manage enhanced monitoring for climate change within the GNLCC.


Last updated 12/2011

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Enhanced Monitoring to Better Address Rapid Climate Change in High-Elevation Pa…


Kershner, J. (2012). Monitoring Rapid Climate Change in High-Elevation Parks in the Western United States [Case study on a project of the National Park Service]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated December 2011)

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