Wild Acadia Has Established a Firm Foundation for Understanding Climate Change Trends


December first dawned this year with howling winds, crashing waves, and drenching rains —a fall storm that filled Acadia’s streams and toppled trees. While weather events such as this happen every year, data from the last century show that the park’s climate is changing. Average annual rainfall has increased by 6 inches over the last century, and average annual temperature has increased by 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

These changes are not uniform across the year, however. Droughts seem to be more common in summer, followed by significant rain events in fall, and less snowpack in winter. These shifting patterns and environmental stressors will have long-term effects on Acadia’s infrastructure, forest composition, and plant, insect, bird, and wildlife populations.

A crew from John Goodwin Jr. Construction, out of Southwest Harbor, work to instal a new aquatic culvert on Marshall Brook Road in Southwest Harbor. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti/Friends of Acadia)

Wild Acadia, a joint program of FOA and ANP focused on park natural resources since 2014, has established a firm foundation for understanding trends and restoring ecological resiliency in key watersheds in Acadia National Park. Over the last five years in the Cromwell Brook and Marshall Brook watersheds, Wild Acadia funds have supported a variety of planning and monitoring projects, as well as on-the-ground activities, such as invasive plant removal and restoration of the former Sieur de Monts septic field to a forested wetland.

This next year will be an exciting time for Wild Acadia, as Friends of Acadia (FOA) and partners analyze the body of data collected at Cromwell Brook to examine how far we have come, how to tweak our monitoring activities, and what other projects we would like to undertake.

However, it is no longer enough to simply try to fix past injuries to the park’s natural resources. Acadia National Park Science Coordinator, Abe Miller-Rushing said, “Our forests, wetlands, and streams are dynamic ecological systems, continuously shifting and adapting because of climate change. We can’t stop these changes in the short run, but instead have to manage them to keep our ecosystems healthy. Wild Acadia is helping us address this challenge.”

Roger St. Amand, wetland scientist, uses a Munsell color system to compare soil collections in the wetland restoration area at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park. (Photo: Ashley L. Conti/Friends of Acadia)

Friends of Acadia recently received a game-changing gift from the BAND Foundation that will advance the work under Wild Acadia to a new, more forward-looking approach for managing the park’s natural and cultural resources within the likely conditions that will be here 20, 30, or even 50 years from now.

The next phase — Wild Acadia 2.0 — will utilize what we already know about climate change at Acadia in combination with a range of likely future scenarios to help the National Park Service (NPS) and partners decide whether to resist, accommodate, or direct the anticipated effects of climate change.

Wild Acadia 2.0 is an approach to management that no longer replaces failing infrastructure in-kind or restores native ecosystems to past conditions — the traditional approach of NPS and other conservation agencies — but rather to replace and restore such that infrastructure and ecosystems are equipped to handle changing environmental conditions.

“Acadia will be leading the National Park Service with this approach of managing for change,” said Rebecca Cole-Will, Chief of Resource Management at Acadia. “This unique partnership with FOA and the BAND Foundation provides Acadia the opportunity to work in a proactive manner”

Over the coming year, FOA will continue its regular Wild Acadia investments — monitoring , coordination, and targeted on-the-ground improvements — and we will implement Wild Acadia 2.0 with support from the BAND Foundation, focusing on three model projects that address management concerns that are common across national parks.

Acadia National Park’s invasive plants team works to remove non-native vegetation on Cadillac Mountain. (Photo: Ashley L. Conti/Friends of Acadia)

These three projects (see related story) will be sited at some of the most visible and iconic areas of Acadia National Park. Wild Acadia Coordinator Brian Henkel said, “Seventy-five percent of visitors go to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and increasingly, visitors stop to take photos along the Park Loop Road at the Great Meadow. These are great locations to introduce the concept of managing for future conditions by seeing what’s happening on the ground.”

The BAND Foundation grant will greatly increase the capacity for FOA and the park to communicate this new approach to managing park resources outward and upward. A comprehensive communication plan will be completed in 2021 to determine how to share the Wild Acadia 2.0 model more broadly among the national park, science, local, and philanthropic communities. A plan will then be developed on how to share the model with Congress and NPS leadership to encourage more investment in natural resources protection.

“While the concept of managing for change may seem intuitive,” said Cole-Will, “it’s revolutionary for the national parks, and we’re excited to share our work with colleagues.”

STEPHANIE CLEMENT is Friends of Acadia’s Conservation Director. BRIAN HENKEL is Wild Acadia Project Coordinator for FOA.