Drier climate? Poster 'educated guess' about Olympic National Park future
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John Pitcher painted two scenes of the same location for an educational poster that illustrates Olympic National Park now and in 2100.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES -- In a marriage of climate-science and art, a Vermont painter has created an ominous dual portrait of Olympic National Park's environmental future.

Artist-naturalist John Pitcher painted two scenes of the same location for an educational poster that illustrates the park now and in 2100, after climate change has taken its toll.

Pitcher, a former Washington resident, painted before-and-after scenes of the same fictional spot, depicting a mountain vista at about 6,000 feet -- 760 feet higher than Hurricane Ridge -- with vegetation and animals in the foreground.

The after-painting shows less snow, no colorful flowers, a smoky forest fire blazing in the distance and a bobcat staring back at the viewer, inhabiting a higher elevation than that at which the species is usually seen at now.

The poster was produced by Pitcher for Good Nature Publishing (www.goodnaturepublishing.com) of Seattle for $20,000 to $25,000, company publisher Timothy Colman said last week.

Pitcher's assignment was to show the impacts of climate change "in the blink of an eye" and was approved by a team of scientists, he said.

Educated guess

"I would characterize what is shown in the painting as an educated guess," U.S. Forest Service research biologist Dave Peterson said, adding the supposition was based on "what we have observed in the scientific record."

Pitcher's scenes are "based on the geography and lay of the land of Olympic National Park," Pitcher said recently in a telephone interview.

In place of the red and purple alpine flowers of 2010 are thistle-like plants and other invasive species that take over by 2100.

"Those plants will be pre-empted by lower-elevation plants that survive in a hotter climate," he said.

Predators like the bobcat will gravitate to higher elevations, following prey seeking their own food, said Peterson, a professor in the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources.

An Olympic marmot, a gregarious, social rodent unique to the North Olympic Peninsula, is perched on a rock in the 2010 painting and absent in 2100.

"Its whole life cycle is keyed to temperature," Peterson said.

Less snow

In Pitcher's 2100 painting, smaller areas of snow are patched together on mountainsides.

"That's going to be the big thing in the Pacific Northwest," he said.

The Hoh and Blue glaciers in the Olympics are already shrinking, Peterson said.

"I am more hopeful for the big, deep cold streams like the Elwha," Peterson said.

"Those are ones that might provide a haven for future salmon habitat."

The poster also shows how higher temperatures and less precipitation will make the park more susceptible to fires.

Peterson, a member of the fire and environmental research application team at the Pacific Wildlife Fire Sciences Laboratory, referred to the Hopper fire, which burned about 385 acres after a lightning strike ignited it on Aug. 5.

The fire, near the Staircase campground in the southeast side of the park, ballooned on Aug. 13, fueled by a climb in temperature with a decrease in humidity, fire officials said.

While "absolutely" not attributing the Hopper fire to climate change -- as a single event, that's impossible to do -- it's the kind of fire that's expected with increasing frequency as the climate warms, Peterson said.

The Forest Service is stepping up efforts to publicize the impact of climate change on natural resources and to inform the public that the agency cares about the issue, Peterson said.

Good Nature Publishing's goal was to give people a sense of immediacy about the need to combat climate change.

"I couldn't stand animals like the [Olympic] marmot being threatened with extinction that don't live anywhere else," Colman said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 12. 2010 12:50AM
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