Smaller Crater Lake snowpack calls for climate change action

Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. It is Oregon's only national park. Fed by overhead snow and rain, this lake is one of the cleanest and purest in the world.

During the past 21 years, I spent my summers living in Crater Lake National Park. Over the years, I have enjoyed making good friends in Ashland. On my weekends, I love to come down to Ashland to explore the city, shop for necessities and hang out with local friends. I think of Ashland like another home for me.

However, during this time of living at Crater Lake, I noticed winters are becoming shorter, warmer and less snowy. It looks to me like it has been raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. This change in the weather has led me to become very worried about climate change.

Science confirms this. In 1931, rangers first began keeping track of the average annual snowfall at Crater Lake. Since then, the totals have trended downward by decade from an average of 614 inches in the 1930s to about 455 inches last decade. Even more alarming, this last winter, 2012-13, Crater Lake received about 355 inches.

Climate researchers expect this trend to continue. They predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.

Most snow falling in the park eventually leaves here to nourish the rivers of southern Oregon, such as the Rogue River. Less snow falling in the park means less water is leaving the park to support nearby Oregon cities, ranches, farms and wildlife downstream.

Smaller snowpack is a concern for the Ashland community, with its reliance on Mount Ashland skiing and snowboarding as a major part of the winter economy. Even more, Mount Ashland's snow-fed creeks provide water for the city. On Aug. 16, reported that the city of Ashland had to get help from other cities, such as Talent, to supply residents' drinking water this past summer. City officials said the snowpack was 54 percent of normal for the winter of 2012-13, so Ashland's creeks could not keep up with how much water people needed.

Less snowpack in the Cascade Mountains and on Mount Ashland is an alarm bell telling us it is time for Oregonians to take action on climate change.

The National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Department of Defense, American Meteorological Society, and the Catholic Church all say climate change is real and caused by humans. According to NASA, over 97 percent of climate scientists agree on this.

Humans pump over 90 million tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, more than 33 billion tons each year. For over 150 years, scientists have known that CO2 traps the earth's heat. Since the industrial revolution, we've increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by over 40 percent.

Earth now has a "fever," and the global average surface temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.8 Celsius. The impact of climate change is felt worldwide by more extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts.

Respected NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen (recently retired), says the best way to reduce the threat of climate change is for Congress to quickly pass carbon fee and dividend legislation, as supported by the national nonpartisan group Citizens Climate Lobby.

A national carbon fee would tax fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — as they are extracted from the ground or arrive in port. This tax would cause fossil fuels to become increasingly expensive. At the same time, non-polluting renewable energy — solar, wind, and geothermal — would become increasingly attractive investments because of their relatively cheaper cost. Revenue from the carbon fee would be used to give Americans an evenly distributed dividend check to offset rising energy costs associated with the fee.

The beauty of Crater Lake National Park, with the diminishing snowpack, should inspire us to do everything we can to limit the threat of climate change for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

The best way to limit future droughts threatening our farms, cattle ranches, salmon fisheries, and drinking water supply is to take action on climate change. That action, a national fee on carbon with revenue returned to households, will only happen if Oregon citizens tell our members of Congress, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to make it so.

Brian Ettling is a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. He writes this as a private citizen and a member of Citizens Climate Lobby. To learn more about Citizens Climate Lobby, email Susan Bizeau at

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