The climate at Crater Lake
Weather and wildlife at Oregon's only National Park.
Earlier this week a friend and I traveled through some driving July rain as we climbed up Hwy 62 towards the rim of Crater Lake.
The unseasonable cold and unwelcome precipitation made us both wonder why the weather has been so strange this year. I don't claim to know if it linked to global climate change or not, but scientists say that more extreme weather patterns are certainly expected as global warming continues to grip the planet.
When we reached the rim and walked out towards the edge, the ominous clouds in front of us had us thinking that we chose the wrong day to venture to a spot where the views were all at least 1,000 feet away. Sure enough, a layer of mist sat like an ice cream scoop in the caldera and prevented all but the slightest glimpse of the pristine lake below.
The funky weather (more specifically, global climate change) isn't just affecting the view at Crate Lake. It's taking a toll on the wildlife that call the area home.
Two species are a case in point - the American Pika and the Whitebark Pine.
A couple of recent articles detailing research aimed at further understanding how climate change might continue to impact these species caught my eye. One article appeared in the Medford Mail Tribune and summed up the precarious state of the Pika like this:
The American pika (Ochotona princeps) has a high body temperature, so the animals are sensitive to increases in summer temperatures. In winter, they need a deep snowpack to insulate them from the cold. They live in high altitudes and make their nests in the crevices of rock-strewn talus slopes. Crater Lake is the perfect habitat.
If the world's temperature continues to rise, these high-elevation habitat "islands" will shrink, because the pika has nowhere to escape but up the slope to cooler climes. Many lower-elevation populations of pikas have gone extinct in the 20th century, according to research compiled by the National Park Service.
Part of our work to protect the Crater Lake Wilderness is geared around avoiding the "islands" mentioned in the article. The more we can protect landscapes that span large elevation shifts the better we can afford species like the Pika room to maneuver.
While climate change may make it harder on the Pika, it's helping a couple of other species survive and thrive. Unfortunately, the expansion of white pine blister rust and bark beetles is having a negative impact on the at-risk Whitebark Pine. From a Washington Post article:
An invasive disease, white pine blister rust, along with insects such as mountain pine beetle, has infiltrated the historically colder altitudes where whitebark pines thrive. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Amy Nicholas said these factors, along with fire patterns and global warming more broadly, are undermining the tree’s viability.
Whitebarks are prevalent at Crater Lake and a favorite haunt for the Clark's nutcrackers that can be seen (and heard!) heard throughout the Park. While the USFWS recognizes that these threats to the Whitebark are imminent, they claim that nothing can be done given the current backlog of endangered species listing petitions and a lack of funding to effectively mitigate impacts to the species.
While these climate change related threats are serious and deeply troubling for Crater Lake National Park, I have to admit they weren't at the top of my mind when I stepped towards the edge to peer down into the cloud-obscured waters below. Disappointed with our limited view, my friend and I headed to check out the Crater Lake Lodge.
After cruising past the fireplace in the lobby (A fire, really? It's July!) we made our way out onto the deck just in time to see what we'd come for. A small ray of sunshine poked through the cloud cover behind us - beginning to warm our backs and burn through the mist shrouding the lake. Slowly, the beyond-blue waters appeared below and Wizard Island - once an apparition - began to fully reveal itself. Soon, the view stretched across the entire caldera to a soundtrack of oohs and ahs from the pleased visitors.
We left feeling fortunate to have seen such a special place and drove back down the hill through a storm wondering what was up with the weather. I'm sure the Pika and Whitebark Pine are wondering the same.