No More Peaks in the Distance

Rising treeline threatens the Northeast's best views.

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New England peakbaggers take note: That head-in-the-clouds feeling of hiking above timberline to gaze over a sea of summits could soon be a memory. The region’s average climate is already 1.7°F warmer than it was a century ago, and is expected to heat up at least another 5°F by 2100, according to a 2006 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. That mean’s the region’s archipelago of bare peaks could be overtaken by advancing brush and trees within several decades.

Most at risk will be the panoramic summit views that attract one million hikers to the White Mountains every year. The fall foliage season will lose its luster as colors evolve over more weeks and brilliant maples are replaced by duller brown oaks. In subalpine zones, hardwoods and grasslands will flourish to overtake conifer forests of red spruce and balsam fir. In fact, the 2006 edition of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Field Guide to the New England Alpine Summits has a new appendix explaining how global warming is causing local plants and animals to adapt to the region’s new climate.

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