Motivation to stop climate change came from work as a park ranger

Brian Ettling

CCL volunteer Brian Ettling starts his last season as a ranger at Crater Lake National Park on May 1.

Motivation to stop climate change came from work as a park ranger

By Brian Ettling

This year marks the Centennial of the National Park Service (NPS). Many national parks are planning a year-long celebration of President Woodrow Wilson signing on August 25, 1916, the Organic Act to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and … leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

For the past 24 years, I worked as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, and Everglades National Park, Florida. Our national parks are truly American and global treasures. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the purest and cleanest bodies of water in the world. Everglades National Park is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles live in the same habitat.

Unfortunately, as we celebrate the NPS Centennial, I observe climate change affecting our national parks. Sea level rising up to three feet – and perhaps more – from global warming by the end of the 21st century threatens to swallow much of the Everglades. Sea level rise also threatens to erode beaches and manmade structures at National Park Service sites from Cape Hatteras and the Statue of Liberty to Olympic National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation.

Average annual snowpack has diminished for decades at Crater Lake. The winter of 2014-15 saw our lowest snowpack on record. Consequently, the summer of 2015 saw our largest forest fire in our park’s history. A century ago, Glacier National Park boasted some 150 glaciers within its borders. Today, around 25 survive. Within a few decades, there could be none because of climate change. Thus, the National Park Service considers climate change a top threat facing our national parks as we look ahead to protecting them for the next 100 years.

By 2008, I became so alarmed about the threat of climate change in the Everglades that I decided to give up my winter job as a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park. Since then, I’ve spent my winters in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, as a private citizen educating and organizing on the issue of climate change. In 2011, my friend Larry Lazar organized the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up to have regular meetings and announce events to educate local St. Louis residents about climate change.

In November 2011, St. Louis CCL volunteers Carol and Tom Braford invited me to attend a CCL monthly conference call. At that time, I was busy with a job that required me to work weekends. However, when I finally attended my first CCL conference call in St. Louis in April, 2012, I became hooked for life.

When cities across the United States and Canada called in at the beginning of the call, I felt so excited that there were so many others concerned and organizing on climate change like me. Oddly, I did not hear any towns in southern Oregon announcing themselves at the beginning of the call, so I helped organize the CCL group in Ashland, Oregon, that started in January 2013.

May 1st, I return to Crater Lake to my ranger job for the summer for my last season. I got married last November and I plan to be with my wife year-round in St. Louis.

Enjoy your national parks during the 2016 National Park Service Centennial, and then help preserve them for future generations by telling Congress to enact effective climate legislation.

Brian Ettling of St. Louis, Missouri, is co-founder of the Southern Oregon CCL chapter and co-leader of the St. Louis CCL chapter.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.