Opportunity in a Crisis at Apostle Islands

A crisis comes whether you, whether you’re ready for it or not. And you can panic, you can, you can just look at the short run, or you can look at that crisis as an opportunity. [music] [music] Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Ten percent of the world’s freshwater is here. And the initial thinking, for decades really, um, has been, uh, these are the places that are least likely to change through major environmental change, whether it was climate change or something else. We’re finding that Lake Superior water temperatures since 1980 are actually increasing at twice the rate of air temperatures. And so the idea that these are going to be the heat sinks and nothing will change is actually exactly wrong. Climate change does look very unique and different here in the Great Lakes and at Apostle Islands because changes are occurring but they’re subtle. And so you have to think about the context of climate change when you’re looking at various impacts in the park. As we’ve seen some of these impacts of climate changes it’s definitely had an affect on the reasons that people come up to try to enjoy this park. It’s been four years since we’ve had enough ice to be able to walk to see the mainland sea caves. So that’s thousands of visitors that are not coming up here anymore in the wintertime because they, they just don’t have the resource that they, that they want to enjoy. We’re seeing more rain instead of snow in the winter. So we don’t have the, the snow pack to ski on, it doesn’t last as long as it used to. We’re seeing less ice on the lake. But with a lot less ice on Lake Superior, um, something that’s not very intuitive is that that means that there’s a ton more evaporation and that’s actually very similar to the arctic where, instead of having the white surface that reflects the heat in the wintertime, we now have a dark blue surface when the ice is not forming and so it warms up faster, um, and so lack of ice in the wintertime means you start off with a warmer, um, spring and summer and, and the cycle can, can keep going. Lake Superior naturally fluctuates only about this much, about a foot from winter to summer and very little from year to year. But in 2007 we were in a drought and we’d been in a drought for several years and we were actually at remarkably low lake levels and at the end of the summer in ‘07 we actually broke the all-time low record for Lake Superior in August and September. And we were about this much below normal. And that meant that these docks were way high above the boats. And so we realized immediately we had a crisis, and we needed to try to do something so that these docks would be safer to use. And in addition to the docks being too high, in some cases the water was too shallow right next to them. So we also had the problem of not enough water at a lot of these places. There’s a big economic impact of boating in this park on the gateway communities and people were very concerned. And people wanted to know what I was going to do about lake levels being so low because I was making a lot of noise about that. Um, and while I couldn’t do much about lake levels, I, we could do something about the infrastructure. And we’ve replaced a few docks in the park now all of which, consistent with most of the models that the scientists are, are saying about what’s going to happen with Lake Superior, they’re all at a lower level than they once were. They have vertical sides, so that no matter what the height of uh, the water, there’s still going to be something solid that a boat can go up against. And then the last change that we did is we designed them so that there’s flow through, at least near the shore. And so hopefully there’ll be more flushing of sediment through the dock as opposed to being blocked by the dock. This park, long before we were thinking about climate change was thinking about sustainability because it was just the right thing to do and it was the best way to function in a very harsh environment where you’re off the grid. Well we are presently at the Raspberry Island Lighthouse. Sustainability has always been a major concern with the people living out here at the light stations. We installed a much larger, much more effective solar array. We were able to link climate change and sustainability together because the two obviously are two sides of a single coin. And we are trying wherever possible to demonstrate through our actions that, that you, too, can make a difference. It’s very important for us to take these steps and to make our carbon footprint smaller. And if people think that we are walking the talk, then everything else we say will be that much more credible. The Park Service is the caretaker of natural and cultural resources. For the Park Service to focus on culture is one way to affect people, to have uh, a profound effect on how people think about things and how people care for things. Take advantage of opportunity to tell the story about your park. The low lake levels and the impact on boaters, uh, were things that people really cared about. People saw that. They, it was visceral, it was obvious. They may or may not have been relating it to climate change, but it created an opportunity for us to bring this story that people thought was about other places, and bring it home. We’re seeing revolutionary changes to the ecosystem. And the challenges that that provides are also opportunities to, to do great things. [music]

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