Climate Change leading to negative effects on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

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MONTROSE COUNTY, Colo. (KJCT) -- Climatologists are forecasting a continual warming trend for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison combines the steepest, deep, and narrow features of a canyon in North America.

Park ranger Alison Mims said the canyon is known for its geological beauty.

“The rock itself is dark and gray, it’s so narrow that you don’t get a lot of sunlight, so it’s this deep narrow and imposing canyon,” Mims said.

"It's such a dramatic, spectacular canyon,” park visitor Lawrence Cieslewicz said.

According to ecologist Danguole Bockus, a long-term drought in the early 2000s left its mark on the park.

Bockus said pinion pines have been hit with beetles, and invasive cheat grass is taking over areas once disturbed by fire, preventing the natural sage from growing.

"Prolonged drought is kind of one of those climate change effects that are happening in our park, so yeah I am seeing that,” Bockus said.

The forecast models predict overall temperatures could be as high eight degrees warmer by the end of the century.

Cieslewicz spends a lot of time fly fishing in the Gunnison River and worries air temperature may lead to an increase in water temperature as well.

"Water temperature is very critical to trout [survival]. If the water gets too warm, the trout, they'll die,” Cieslewicz said.

Aquatic biologist Nicki Gibney is monitoring river temperatures.

"That's something that we definitely keep an eye on,” Gibney said.

She said there is no evidence the temperature in the Gunnison River is exceeding the maximum heat trout can survive, but it’s something she’s worried might change.

"We need to collect more data,” Gibney said.

In the past, park biologists could only track the river temperature once a month. New equipment will allow them to record water temperature every hour.

"I'm really excited about that because that's going to be able to tell us so much more about the temperature trends that we are seeing here in Black Canyon that we haven't been able to tell from our data so far,” Gibney said.

“I'm so blessed to have a just have the opportunity to be up here and enjoy these resources,” Cieslewicz said.

To preserve the park's beautiful scenery, scientists said it’s very important to stay on the marked trails. Any movement off trail leads to an increase in soil erosion and a decrease in plants on the riverbanks, which are necessary for the survival of the trout.

"The number one way to help with the fish is by providing opportunity areas where they can find colder water for them to move into when the water does get really warm in the middle of the summer,” Gibney said.

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