Brilliant mid-summer flowers in the Rockies waning due to climate change
Hummingbird at larkspur. David Inouye photo.
One of the great joys of living in the Rockies is taking a summer stroll in a high meadow, surrounded by wildflowers - violet lupines, deep red skyrockets, purple larkspur, penstemons, 6-foot gentians, and many others.
Some of these diplays may be changing, however, according to a scientific article written up recently in the LA Times. The study shows that the previous "peak" of flowers in the mid-summer is being stretched out. As the biology geeks put it in the article:
We examined the shapes of community-level flowering curves in this system and found that the typical unimodal peak results from a pattern of complementary peaks in flowering among three distinct meadow types (dry, mesic and wet) within the larger ecosystem. However, high mid-summer temperatures were associated with divergent shifts in the flowering curves of these individual meadow types. Specifically, warmer summers appeared to cause increasing bimodality in mesic habitats, and a longer interval between early and late flowering peaks in wet and dry habitats.
My attempted translation: the mid-summer peak of flowers is becoming split into an early and late peak in flowering, with fewer flowers in mid-summer. And this may be bad news for the hummingbirds, moths and other pollinators that evolved to take advantage of the mid-summer bonanza of flowers.
With hot summers hitting the high country in the Rockies hard, one would wish the agencies that manage many of the mountain meadows - the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management - would be doing something about climate change.
To the contrary. BLM recently proudly approved a new coal mine expansion on Colorado's West Slope, enabling the Elk Creek Mine to vent untreated more than 5-million-cubic-feet of methane pollution into the atmosphere every day. BLM refused to even take a hard look at alternatives to require the mine to capture the methane or reduce its climate change impact. This unnecessary methane pollution will have the warming impact of 1 million tons of carbon dioxide over a year - about the same as a small coal-fired power-plant.
And the Forest Service is falling all over itself to gut the 2001 Roadless Rule for Colorado, with loopholes to permit road construction for more coal mine expansions. The loopholes will allow an additional 500 million tons of coal to be mined from roadless areas over and above what would be allowed under the 2001 rule. Burning that coal will cause more than 1 BILLION tons of CO2 pollution - the same amount as all of the man-made climate change pollution produced in Colorado over a 9-year period.
So flower- and hummingbird-lovers, don't expect Smokey Bear to help with the problems climate change is causing flowers on Forest Service lands in the Rockies.
He's too busy snuggling with coal industry lobbyists.