Climate Change

Trail through green prairie grasses following a ridge of a butte in badlands topography.

NPS/Ryan Marthaller

When a young Theodore Roosevelt visited the North Dakota Badlands, he was so inspired that he went on to protect more than 230 million acres of land. Now, as we look at a world shaped by climate change, this place can inspire us again. Roosevelt reimagined conservation for his time. How can we imagine a new future of conservation around climate change?

Climate change affects everything around us—including the native species and ecosystem that Theodore Roosevelt National Park is set aside to preserve. It has real and devastating impacts on humans and non-humans alike.

As we face a world shaped by climate change, we have to work in community to reimagine the future. We can learn from nature, from each other, and from our history. People have changed the world before. Now, it’s time to do it again.


How are we responding to climate change?

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." - Theodore Roosevelt

A male bison grazes alone in a prairie dog town

NPS Photo

Park managers at Theodore Roosevelt

Managing for climate change is tricky, because we don’t know the exact details of how changes will play out. But in the face of these new challenges, parks are embracing new management strategies. At Theodore Roosevelt, we’re responding by preparing the land and wildlife to resist the impacts of climate change.

To do that, we’re working to keep ecosystems and species as resilient as possible. Resilience is crucial for climate change—the more resilient a species or ecosystem can be, the better equipped it is to survive new and changing conditions.

Here are some ways we’re working toward resilience:


We use prescribed fire to keep ecosystems healthy. Park managers at Theodore Roosevelt follow in the footsteps of Indigenous Peoples to set managed fires, which help prevent fuels from building up so there’s less to burn when unplanned wildfires come through. Climate change will likely make wildfires more common in North Dakota [1], so prescribed fire is a way we can keep the ecosystem resilient as the climate changes.  

We manage invasive plants to help native plants thrive. Invasive species take over ecosystems, leaving no space for native species to grow. That puts a lot of stress on the native species, which adds to stress from climate change, making it harder for the native species to survive in extreme conditions. By managing invasive species, we can take some of that stress away.  

We help the park’s bison by participating in the NPS-wide Bison Conservation Initiative. In the face of climate change, it’s important that the bison population is as resilient as possible. A more genetically diverse bison population will be more resilient against climate change and other pressures. The Bison Conservation Initiative works to make bison herds across the country more genetically diverse. 

We are also doing research to learn more about what kinds of challenges different species might face with climate change. Park staff at Theodore Roosevelt have been doing research on what bison used to eat, thousands of years ago when the Earth went through an extended warm period. Better understanding what they ate then can help us make predictions about what kind of conditions they might face in a warmer future, with climate change. That way, we can make better informed management choices to keep the bison healthy.   
Staff working on the solar panel array at Natural Bridges National Monument

NPS/Andrew Kuhn

Sustainability in the National Park Service

The National Park Service is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and making a more eco-friendly park experience for visitors. The Green Parks Plan sets out ambitious goals for all parks nationwide to reduce their ecological impact and fight climate change.

Some highlights from the Green Parks Plan:

  • All parks will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045

  • 75% of trash in parks will be diverted to recycling or compost by 2030

  • Parks will make sure all eligible government cars are zero-emissions

  • Parks will talk to visitors and the public about sustainability and climate change!

Check out these sustainability projects at some parks nearby!


Doing your part

Volunteers with tools and work gloves smile at the camera while on a trail

Connar L'Ecuyer

Everyone can make a difference in our response to climate change. Think about what resources you have, or what you enjoy doing. Is there a connection between those things and climate action?

There are lots of things you can do at home to make your life more climate-friendly. Check out the NPS’ guidance for conservation at home.

But you can also make a big difference by working with other people!

People often talk about Theodore Roosevelt as a solo conservation hero, but he didn’t do it by himself. People around the country worked with him to make change happen. Just like them, you can amplify your voice by working together with your community!

  • Talk to your friends and family about climate change and how it will affect your community. Your voice has an impact, especially with people you know and trust.

  • Join a climate action group in your area. When you work together with others, you can make a big difference. Plus, it helps to connect with other people who care.

  • Be an active citizen, and share your opinions about climate change with your representatives.

  • Volunteer with local ecological groups—or with National Parks like Theodore Roosevelt! Any work that helps ecosystems also helps fight climate change.

A group of female elk with one bull elk bugling in badlands topography.

NPS/Rolan Honeyman

Explore the challenge

"...and to lose the chance to see frigatebirds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset...—why, this loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time." - Theodore Roosevelt

Climate change is reshaping the world as we know it—and changes will continue to come. We know a lot about what has already changed, and we can make scientific predictions about what’s likely going to happen in the future.

Some changes are going to happen no matter what, because of the impacts that people have already had. But we can still make a big difference in the future of climate change: if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions now, we can delay or prevent the worst of the impacts.

How have things already changed?

Winding river with red rock embankments and valley of green trees with buttes on either side.

NPS/Kim Wehner

Between 1895 and 2015, North Dakota warmed the most out of the lower 48 states [2].

Scientists measure warming by averaging all the temperatures in a year. Then, they can compare that average to the average temperatures in other years. That way, we can see how temperatures are changing on a broad scale. In North Dakota, average yearly temperatures got about 2°F warmer between 1900 and 2000 [2].

And when we look at just wintertime temperatures, they’ve warmed even more. Between 1900 and 2000, wintertime temperatures increased around 3.3°F [2].

These might sound like small changes, but they have a huge impact. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between climate and weather. It's like with the human body—the difference between feeling fine and having a fever is only a few degrees.


What does the future look like?

Science shows that climate change will continue to shape North Dakota in the future. Scientific models can tell us a lot about what kinds of climate change impacts we’re likely to see in the future. We can’t predict exactly how specific impacts will play out, but we do know that they’re coming.

We also know that the future depends on us. If people reduce our greenhouse gas emissions now, we can make a big difference.


  • Because of climate change, temperatures at Theodore Roosevelt will keep going up.  

  • If people don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, average temperatures could go up by 10.2°F by the year 2100 (compared to before 2000) [3]. That’s an enormous change!  

  • But if we do reduce our emissions, we can limit that change to only 5.9°F by 2100 [3]. That’s still a lot, but it’s much less than if we don’t take action.

  • Warming temperatures also mean more days with very hot temperatures, and fewer days below freezing. That will continue to change the rhythm of life in North Dakota for humans and wildlife alike – strategies that have kept species alive for thousands of years might not work anymore because temperatures aren’t the same as they used to be.  

  • We don’t know for sure whether climate change will make the park have more or less precipitation. But we do know that there will be changes in how that precipitation falls.  

  • There will likely be more variability in precipitation—more intense storms that drop a lot of rain or snow, followed by longer dry periods. This is because warmer air can store more water vapor. As temperatures go up, the air stores water for a longer period of time before releasing it all at once, creating more intense precipitation patterns [4].

    This can add up to the same amount of precipitation as before, but it makes a big difference. A few days of gentle rainstorms doesn’t feel the same as if all that rain fell in ten minutes!  

  • There will also probably be more precipitation falling as rain, rather than snow, because there will be fewer days below freezing. More rain means more water enters riverways during rainstorms, rather than getting stored as snowpack and released over time.  

  • Precipitation getting more variable and intense has other consequences, too. Long dry periods, especially combined with hotter temperatures, can easily create droughts. As precipitation and temperatures change, droughts in North Dakota will probably get more common and more intense. 

  • Hotter and drier conditions also make unplanned wildfires more likely to happen—and more likely to be bigger. Scientists project that climate change will make fires up to six times more frequent in the plains of North Dakota, Montana, and other nearby states [1].

  • More intense precipitation, combined with heat, will also create conditions for floods. Because precipitation will fall more intensely, and more of it will be rain (rather than snow), there will probably be lots of water entering rivers all at once. That can easily lead to flooding.  


What kinds of impacts will climate change have?

Climate change is impacting iconic species, including bison. Bison are a really important species. They're beloved by humans and they play an important role in their ecosystem. Many other species rely on bison to create good habitat, making them crucial for biodiversity and resilience. So in this way, bison are working with us to fight climate change! 

But they’re also impacted by it. Warming temperatures and rising CO2 levels might affect the types of plants that are available for bison to eat. With climate change, it’s possible that the most nutritious grasses will become less common, so bison would have to eat more of other types of plants [6].  

What’s more, most bison are fenced within a boundary—including at Theodore Roosevelt. Because the bison can’t move freely, they can’t adapt to changing conditions as well. They will have to rely on the food that’s available within the boundaries of the park, even if climate change makes what’s available less nutritious.  

People have played a role in bison’s lives for thousands of years—including Indigenous stewardship, near-eradication by Europeans in the 19th century, and the NPS Bison Conservation Project. It’s a complicated story, but it can teach us a lot about how we can live in harmony with the bison—especially as climate change reshapes the world as we know it.   

Because of climate change, the kinds of ticks in the park are changing. In the past, there have been ticks in Theodore Roosevelt, but not blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks—which are the kind that carry Lyme disease. Recently, though, park staff have found evidence of blacklegged ticks in the park. And CDC data shows that deer ticks are spreading across the country.  

This happens because warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are making more places good habitat for deer ticks, and for ticks in general. And in places where ticks already are, they’re active for more of the year because of warming temperatures.  

So next time you’re in the park, keep an eye out for ticks! You can find more information on ticks and tick-borne diseases from the CDC.  

The park is home to a beautiful cottonwood forest—which includes the oldest known plains cottonwood tree, which sprouted in 1641! The forest provides important habitat for many kinds of species, keeping the park’s ecosystems diverse and resilient. 

One way that the cottonwood forest is affected by climate change is through the Little Missouri river. Cottonwoods sprout along the riverbanks, and they’ve developed a life pattern that depends on the river’s regular ebb and flow. Cottonwood seedlings sprout on newly cleared wet ground, as the river moves away from the bank. But climate change is changing the way the river moves, which changes things for the cottonwoods, too.  

When the river's flows are lower—as happens with rising temperatures and more droughts—fewer new cottonwoods sprout, and the forest regenerates less. 

The trees also grow more in wet years than dry years. Droughts can even affect the trees so much that they can die in harsh summer droughts. With climate change, there will likely be more dry periods and more extreme droughts, putting cottonwood trees—and the future of the forest—more at risk [5].

The park’s Maltese Cross Cabin tells part of the story of Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Dakota Badlands. The historic buildings at Peaceful Valley Ranch also tell of the ranching period in the park, and are part of the history of the park service. These buildings are old and have already been weathered over time. Climate change could speed up that degradation.  

When temperatures move from very hot to very cold over a short period of time, it adds stress to old structures. Plus, major weather events like storms, fires, and floods can cause a lot of damage at once. Climate change could also make pests like termites more common in this area, which would hurt the buildings too.  

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the Bakken rock foundation, which has been a hotspot for oil and gas extraction. Oil wells and pipelines surround all three of Theodore Roosevelt National Park's units [7].  

When thinking about climate change, we have to think about fossil fuels. When we burn fossil fuels, like the oil and gas extracted near the park, we emit the greenhouse gases that make climate change happen.  

Even the extraction itself has a huge carbon footprint. In 2016, scientists estimated that energy development in the Bakken region releases almost 15 metric tons of the greenhouse gas methane every hour [8]. To release that much greenhouse gas, you’d have to drive a gas-powered car for more than 90 years [9].

People need energy, but we have to balance that need with the pressures of a changing climate.  


Learn more about climate change



[1] Barbero, R., J. T. Abatzoglou, N. K. Larkin, C. A. Kolden, and B. Stocks. 2015. "Climate change presents increased potential for very large fires in the contiguous United States." International Journal of Wildland Fire 892-899.

[2] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. n.d. Climate at a Glance.

[3] Applied Climate Science Lab, University of California Merced. n.d. Climate Toolbox - Climate Mapper.

[4] USGCRP. 2017. Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume 1. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Global Change Research Program.

[5] Friedman, J M, and E R Griffin. 2017. Management of plains cottonwood at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Fort Collins, CO: National Park Service.

[6] Miller Hesed, C.D., Yocum, H.M., Rangwala, I., Symstad, A.J., Martin, J.M., Ellison, K., Wood, D.J. A., Ahlering, M., Chase, K.J., Crausbay, et al., 2023, Synthesis of climate and ecological science to support grassland management priorities in the North Central Region: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2023–1036, 21 p.,

[7] Valseth, K.J., 2021, Vulnerability assessment in and near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3479, pamphlet 9 p., 1 sheet,

[8] Peischl, J., Karion, A., Sweeney, C., Kort, E. A., Smith, M. L., Brandt, A. R., Yeskoo, T., et al. 2016. "Quantifying atmospheric methane emissions from oil and natural gas production in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota." Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 121, issue 10, pages 6101-6111.

[9] Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

Last updated: November 28, 2023

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