After more than 7,000 years of chilling out on the landscape, the year 1850 saw 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park. Now there are 27, and by 2030—if not sooner—it’s projected that even those will have vanished. And those rapidly melting glaciers are just the most visible effects of climate change in the area, says Dan Fagre, the ecologist heading up Glacier’s Climate Change Research Program.
Hoping to draw attention to the rapid changes, and perhaps help slow them, a dozen local, national and Canadian groups have launched an effort to declare Glacier National Park and Alberta’s adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park “endangered.” The parks are jointly protected by international treaty as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the groups’ petition seeks to reclassify them as a World Heritage Site In Danger, which designation could require the United States to mitigate its impact on global warming.
The World Heritage Convention will consider the proposal in March, when it will also take up with four other such designations related to climate change impacts on the glaciers of Mount Everest and Peru, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Belize’s Barrier Reef. The Montana Wilderness Association and Wildlands CPR are two local groups signed on to the Glacier petition.
“It’s important for people in the United States to recognize that climate change isn’t just affecting other places,” says Lewis and Clark Law School professor Erica Thorson, who wrote the petition. “We’re losing our very own national treasures.”
To Fagre, who’s also documented increasing average temperatures and decreasing snowpack in Glacier National Park, it’s clear that changes are happening. What’s not obvious is whether changes in particular areas like Glacier can be reversed. The petition seeks to force the Unites States to reduce its greenhouse gases through greater energy conservation and automobile fuel efficiency.
“This is truly global change, so anything we would do [to mitigate climate change] would affect things at a global level—but you can’t guarantee you’re going to have any specific effects,” Fagre says.