What Will Climate Change Do to Our National Parks?

Traditional national park threats such as hunters and loggers are a thing of the past.

 

The National Park Service’s (NPS) latest foe is climate change.

 

Sea level rise, higher than average temperatures, and wildfires within national park lands will continue to threaten entire ecosystems. National parks cover 84 million acres of land and thousands of species call it home. California’s five-year drought has escalated into rampant wildfires that have spread into Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Climate change is to blame as extreme weather events become larger and more frequent, especially fueled by a summer warming trend for US’s western coast.  In Glacier National Park, the higher temperatures have reduced the park’s 150 glaciers to only 25. Scientists estimate that by 2030, that there will be no glaciers at all. The Everglades in Florida could be swallowed up by rising seas as well. Even President Obama is worried over what will happen to the national parks. During a visit to Yosemite National Park, he noted that Yosemite’s famous glacier is almost gone.

 

This week the NPS is celebrating its Centennial. Looking forward, what will we be celebrating in the next 100 years? Even with a climate agenda that rapidly reduces global greenhouse gas emissions, national parks will look very different than what we see today. The NPS already is responding to climate change. Scientists are tracking changes from over the past 100 years of landscape data on plants and animals. They are looking to see if lower elevation species are moving up to higher elevations and if those species living in higher elevations are moving up as well.  But with limited funding and a global, daunting task, it’s not something the NPS can do all on its own.

 

The urgency to save cultural and ecological sites must be matched by global efforts.