Everglades National Park takes climate change initiative
In order to get the message out, Everglades National Park has instructed staff to approach climate change in conversation with visitors and community members.
Following a late 2010 strategy to respond to climate change, the National Park Service took a more aggressive stance when it came to communicating about climate change with guests and staff.
With about 300 million visitors per year, the park service is in a position to start a discussion about climate change. In September 2010, the service released its Climate Change Response Strategy, which detailed the ways parks across the country would respond to changing temperatures and rising seas, among other things.
Four categories are outlined in the strategy: science, adaptation, mitigation and communication. One of the easiest to handle is communication, said Larry Perez, science communications liaison for Everglades National Park.
“We were encouraged by our top brass in Washington for everyone in our organization to communicate internally… [and] to communicate outside the park to our visitor groups and to where our stakeholders are located,” Mr. Perez said.
At the height of its visitor season, winter, Mr. Perez estimates 60 staff members worked throughout the park. All were instructed to engage on the topic of climate change.
“We know that despite our very best efforts in mitigation and adaptation, the parks are going to change. There are some tough decisions to be made in the days ahead and we want to make people aware,” Mr. Perez said.
The park service has a four- to five-day formal training that focuses on communicating about climate change and other topics. Because volunteers and rangers have a bevy of programs and topics already under their belts, the tact the Everglades park service has taken toward climate change communication thus far is to address the topic in its existing programs, Mr. Perez said.
“What we really try to do with our volunteers and park rangers is have them tell visitors about the effects of climate change,” said Dan Kimball, who retired at the end of March as Everglades National Park superintendent. “We’re doing that at our visitors centers, trails. We’ve got a really life-changing experience [and we] try to weave climate change into that story as well,” he said.
Because the primary goal of most Everglades visitors is enjoyment and recreation, each volunteer and ranger judges the mood of each tour to see how receptive they might be to a discussion about climate change.
“The last thing we want to do as rangers is be Debbie Downer to them,” Mr. Perez said. “We’re very cognizant that visitors to the park are there for recreational [reasons],” he said.
In February however, Jonathon Jarvis, parks service director, took a stricter stance toward communicating about climate change in a policy memorandum.
Building on the 2010 strategy, each park and program should engage its staff, from maintenance and facilities workers to scientists, to share their stories with climates change, Mr. Jarvis wrote in the memo.
“It is important to do this – even when doing so is uncomfortable – so that they can spark discussion and inform choices,” Mr. Jarvis wrote.
Everglades volunteers and rangers are making a move toward facilitated dialogue instead of the traditional park tour data dump when addressing topics like climate change with guests.
“What we’re finding with climate change and these hot-button topics is that people have stuff to say, and if we give them the opportunity [to talk], it really gives them the opportunity to have that ‘ah-ha’ moment themselves,” Mr. Perez said.
On topics like climate change, he said, it’s easier as a park ranger and volunteer if, instead of trying to convince guests about the importance of considering climate change, they come to that idea on their own.