Climate Change vs. National Parks

A new report identifies 25 parks in peril from climate change and offers solutions for an embattled Obama administration
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A new report identifies 25 parks in peril from climate change and offers solutions for an embattled Obama administration



Yellowstone is losing its white-bark pines (whose nuts are an important food source for the park’s grizzlies). Rocky Mountain National Parks is losing most, if not all, of its mature lodgepole pines. Mesa Verde has already lost most of its piñon pine trees. And more than trees are suffering from climate change: We might pack it in and pack it out, but human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have put our national parks in big trouble.

National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption, a report released by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization in collaboration with the National Resources Defense Council on October 1, identified the 25 national parks most adversely affected by climate change. Though the report stresses that all 391 parks are threatened, the report’s authors established 11 different types of risk to assess which parks were in the greatest danger. Whether it be due to loss of ice and snow, higher seas and coastal storms, intolerable heat or other factors, these parks are feeling the affects of a warming climate, now:

-Acadia National Park

-Assateague Island National Seashore

-Bandelier National Monument

-Biscayne National Park

-Cape Hatteras National Seashore

-Colonial National Historic Park

-Denali National Park

-Dry Tortugas National Park

-Ellis Island National Monument

-Everglades National Park

-Glacier National Park

-Great Smokey Mountains National Park

-Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

-Joshua Tree National Park

-Lake Mead National Recreation Area

-Mesa Verde National Park

-Mount Rainier National Park

-Padre Island National Seashore

-Rocky Mountain National Park

-Saguaro National Park

-Theodore Roosevelt National Park

-Virgin Islands National Park/Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

-Yellowstone National Park

-Yosemite National Park

-Zion National Park

The report appealed to the Obama administration, Congress, and the National Park Services Department to accept that human disruption of the climate is the greatest threat ever to our national parks. It urges them to consider and implement 32 actions specific to national parks, including setting aside additional national park land, making a national commitment to becoming carbon neutral at all park sites, drastically lowering greenhouse gas emissions (20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 based on current levels), and accelerating the implementation of clean energy technologies.

The report closes with a quote from Mike Finley, the former superintendent of Everglades, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks:

The establishment and protection of the National Park System is one of the best ideas that America has institutionalized. Our parks provide inspiration, education, and enjoyment. Moreover, they represent some of our greatest resources of genetic and biological diversity and intact ecosystems. They are our seed banks for restoring the nation’s lands and waters already ravaged by our careless development and the early impacts of climate change. In one sense, they represent a life boat for our biological future. We need to take immediate action to reduce our use of fossil fuels and the resulting climate disruption before we sink our life boat and destroy the values and purposes of our national parks for future generations.

Looking for ways you can keep our parks from sinking under the weight of climate change? Check out:

Save Yellowstone and the Greater Rockies

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization

National Resources Defense Council

And look for tips to green up your life in BACKPACKER's Green Scene.

-Jessie Lucier

National Parks in Peril

Photo credit: Krossbow