Mt. Rainier's meadows face slow fir invasion

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK — Nothing lures visitors to Paradise like the transitory displays of wildflowers that populate Mount Rainier's high mountain meadows. But summer sojourns could fade into memory and panoramic vistas vanish as alpine asters, rosy pussytoes and purple lupines are crowded out by trees.

Add disappearing high mountain meadows to the catalog of effects wrought by global warming.

"There aren't very many places where you can visually identify the changes affected by climate. This is one," said David Peterson, a U.S. Forest Service research biologist.

The problem is snowfall, or more precisely, the lack of it. A long-term decline in mountain snowpack also to blame for many shrinking glaciers permits trees to grow in places where they couldn't otherwise establish a foothold.

"As soon as you get less snow, there are more opportunities for trees to come in," said botanist Regina Rochefort, a National Park Service science adviser.

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