Environmental Protection

Thousands of cars, pickup trucks and minivans carry visitors to Paradise, Rialto Beach and the Cascade Pass trailhead in national parks in Western Washington. They leave behind tons of plastic water bottles, granola bar wrappers and banana peels.

Heating the Hurricane Ridge visitor center at Olympic National Park costs almost $12,000 a year for diesel fuel.The hope, they said, is that park efforts will inspire visitors to do their parts at home and at work to reduce emissions across the region.It’s a two-hour 60-mile drive for Mount Rainier National Park staff to get from the operations center in Longmire to Sunrise.

All the driving, waste and utility consumption – not to mention the energy to power employee computers, to buy fuel for snowplows and to haul away food scraps – spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As a result, the state’s three national parks have an estimated combined carbon footprint of 30,820 metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of a year’s worth of emissions from 2,667 households, or a town about the size of Steilacoom.

The hand dryer and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Climate Friendly Parks program.To identify what contributes to each park’s footprint and how to reduce emissions, staffers at the three parks met in two-day workshops in February and earlier this month. The ideas are in their embryonic stage and no cost has been calculated for them.

“It’s a pretty ambitious goal to become carbon neutral for park operations by 2016,” said acting Mount Rainier superintendent Randy King. “We have to start working on that now to reach that goal.”“Our national parks can be used to demonstrate the impacts of climate change,” said Shawn Norton, who heads the climate program for the Park Service.

Officials recognize that even if they succeed in making park operations carbon neutral, the parks still will feel the effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases emitted beyond park boundar.

A carbon footprint estimates the amount of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases emitted. The footprints for Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic national parks are produced by the more than 5 million people who visit and the functions needed to operate the more than 1.85 million acres at the parks.

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