After erasing all mentions of climate change, National Park Service releases uncensored report

The study's lead scientist said she was "extremely happy" that mentions of climate change were restored.

A surfer rides the waves along the coast of Outer Banks in Rodanthe, North Carolina. (Credit: Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A surfer rides the waves along the coast of Outer Banks in Rodanthe, North Carolina. (Credit: Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In the face of mounting scrutiny over attempts to scrub all mentions of climate change from a report about sea level rise, the National Park Service (NPS) has finally released its long-awaited report.

The uncensored report was quietly released on Friday with no mention by the NPS, the Department of Interior, or its Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Twitter accounts.

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The report highlights the climate risks at 118 coastal national park sites. While the impact will vary depending on the location and how much global temperatures increase, the report finds that parks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks are at the greatest risk from sea level rise.

In contrast to the Trump administration’s tendency to ignore or deny climate change and its risks, the report begins: “Global sea level is rising. While sea levels have been gradually rising since the last glacial maximum approximately 21,000 years ago, anthropogenic climate change has significantly increased the rate of global sea level rise.”

“Ongoing changes in relative sea levels and the potential for increasing storm surges due to anthropogenic climate change and other factors present challenges to national park managers,” it states.

The release comes after reports by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting showed that NPS officials “deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change” in the drafts of the sea level rise report.

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After analyzing 18 different versions of the report, which was first drafted in the summer of 2016, Reveal found that the word “anthropogenic” was crossed out by an official in a February 2018 draft. Three references to “human activities” causing climate change were also removed.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who denies the science on climate change, had previously said in his defense that “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.”

In response, last month House and Senate Democrats called on the Department of the Interior’s inspector general to investigate whether the NPS had violated its scientific integrity policy. They also asked for an investigation to identify who edited the NPS report and who directed them to do so.

The study’s lead scientist Maria Caffrey, a University of Colorado research assistant, told Reveal that she was “extremely happy” that the report was released with all mentions of climate change restored.

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Caffrey had worked on the report for five years. When she resisted the editing efforts, she was reportedly told by NPS officials that the report would not be released if she refused to accept the deletions, or that it could be released without her name on it.

“The fight probably destroyed my career with the [National Park Service],” she said, “but it will be worth it if we can uphold the truth and ensure that scientific integrity of other scientists won’t be challenged so easily in the future.”