Climate Change

A trio of images: smoke billowing above the mesa; a purple thistle in a brown field of grass; and elk and horses in a dry rocky area.
LEFT: Smoke billowing above Mesa Verde during the 2000 Bircher Fire. CENTER: Musk thistle and cheat grass taking over a burned area. RIGHT: Native elk and non-native horses compete for water near a spring during a particularly dry summer.

Climate Change at Mesa Verde

Evidence of climate change is obvious at Mesa Verde National Park due to warming temperatures. The temperature changes are driving larger, more intense wildfires that degrade the values of the old-growth pinyon-juniper woodlands and prevent recovery. More than half of the park (jpg, 1 mb) has experienced wildfires in the past several decades and we expect that ecological recovery may take centuries. Although fire is a natural process, more acreage is being burned than can recover thus shifting the dominant vegetation from old-growth pinyon-juniper woodland to a grassland.

In addition, invasive species such as cheatgrass are invading these recently burned areas are well suited to the shifts in temperatures thus being able to better complete with native species. Warming temperatures increase evapotranspiration and drought severity. Droughts are characteristic of this region, but the droughts occurring in the past couple of decades are more severe resulting in decreasing water availability for rivers, springs, wildlife, forests and native plants. In an arid climate, water resources are extremely valuable.

The park is working to understand the effects of warming temperatures on and how to enhance resiliency of natural resources so that these values will remain for future generations.

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Be Informed! Climate Change Research in our Region

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    Get Involved

    Here are some ways you can help mitigate human causes of climate change.

    Last updated: March 14, 2022

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    Contact Info

    Mailing Address:

    PO Box 8
    Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330



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