Effects of Climate Change on the Adirondacks

By Mac Ritz-Kenny

As a long-standing protected area, the Adirondack Park is sensitive to a changing global climate. This is evident in many areas of the park, from wetlands to wildlife. An article from The Hill states that average winter temperatures have “warmed by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970,” annual snowfall has “declined 18% since 1948,” and that the combination of these effects leads to unpredictable snowstorms and thaws that have not historically existed. According to the Adirondack Council, as temperatures in the park rise over time, invasive species that had been kept at bay by winter cold will be able to advance further than ever, out-competing native fauna.

In addition to eating the food and taking the space native organisms would normally use, many invasives destroy local habitats, making them unsuitable for animal or human use. One such example is the

zebra mussel, an invasive species now found across the northeast as indicated by this map in a species profile by the US Geological Survey. This mussel attaches to boats, drainage pipes, docks, or almost any other aquatic structure. It can injure swimmers with sharp edges and filters out nutrients required for native aquatic organisms to survive. 

Climate change, and the highly variable weather that comes with it, also spells disaster for habitats. Higher temperatures cause existing wetlands to decrease in size, limiting areas for reptiles, migratory waterfowl, and other species to live. Fish species that rely on cold water to live comfortably are being pushed farther north as well due to warming water. Winter snowfalls are becoming more varied, making predicting and preparing for winter more difficult, and sometimes leading to flooding from meltwater runoff. 

In addition to the problems with the natural world that climate change is causing, there have been economic effects in the Adirondacks as well, mostly due to warming winters. According to this figure from the Adirondack Almanack,

temperature anomalies over the years have switched direction from a downward trend in the late 1800s to a rapid increase in the 20th and 21st centuries. Skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and a host of other winter sports are the lifeblood of many Adirondack towns’ winter economies. With less reliable snowfall, participation in these activities has taken a downturn, leading to less revenue through ski passes, snowmobile repairs, snowshoe rentals, and more. The aforementioned The Hill article also notes that Adirondack lakes have experienced unprecedented mid-winter thaws and refreezes, making planning ice fishing trips difficult. Additionally, the choppy cycle of freezing and thawing is causing problems for maple syrup producers. The sap used to make syrup is not produced as well by maple trees in warmer winters, leading to another area of decreased financial intake. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from an environmental standpoint, the Adirondack Council states that over $1.6 billion is spent on wildlife viewing alone in New York State, a figure that would decrease with habitat loss or other climate-related changes that effect wildlife.

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