Climate Change Is Altering Our National Parks Forever

If you’ve ever taken a camping trip, hiked up a forested mountain trail or simply gone bird watching in an American national park, I have bad news: climate change is increasingly putting our nation’s wilderness in danger. And with July 2016 officially declared the hottest month on the planet since recordkeeping began, matters are only poised to get worse.

Rising global temperatures and changing weather patterns are already having wide-reaching effects on these wild places. Nowhere is this more apparent than in areas that used to be thick with ice and snow.

Glacier National Park in Montana is just one disturbing example. Since the early 1900s, the number of 90 degree or higher days in the park has tripled, resulting in staggering damage to the landscape. The area was once home to 150 glaciers, but today only 25 of them remain. By 2030, scientists estimate they’ll be gone completely.

The loss of glaciers has much more devastating effects than simply altering the view. Melting glaciers and reduced snowpack across the country massively impact the surrounding ecosystem: streams are drying up, cold-water fish are dying out and snow-loving species like wolverines are under threat.

The increasingly dry conditions also create prime conditions for wildfires. Tuning into the news on a summer day in recent years, it seems there’s always a massive blaze somewhere in the Western U.S. – usually more than one. In just the past decade, every single Western state has seen a dramatic rise in the number of wildfires each year. In 2015, the area burned totaled more than 10 million acres.

Another effect of higher temperatures is the rise of pine beetles, small insects that have left wide swaths of dead trees in their wake. While some ecologists argue that the beetles actually help weed out weaker trees that can’t withstand the stress of hotter temperatures, the loss of some types of trees is nonetheless devastating for local wildlife.

In particular, scientists have voiced concern about whitebark pines in Yellowstone, which provide edible seeds that form a vital food source for grizzly bears. A 2014 report in Scientific American found that a upwards of 95 percent of the park’s large trees had been wiped out in the preceding five years.

Pines aren’t the only vegetation struggling to thrive in these conditions, of course. The famous desert trees of Joshua Tree National Park have been dwindling for years. A survey last year found almost no young trees in about 30 percent of their range. While the mature trees use very little water and are able to survive on just one rainfall a year, saplings require regular rainfall to become established. Because of changing weather patterns, they’re simply not getting enough water.

And of course, we can’t forget the effect on our oceans. While it’s easy to only remember the parks on land, places like Biscayne National Park and Virgin Island National Park are home to delicate coral reefs that are incredibly susceptible to changes in temperature. Like the glaciers, rising temperatures may eradicate these fixtures of the natural landscape forever.

If the U.S. government doesn’t take drastic action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change, these natural treasures may be lost. You can help by signing my petition asking Congress to save our national parks by addressing climate change. The more of us that speak out, the bigger an impact we can have.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

96 comments

Monica D
Monica D6 months ago

The glaciers and trees must be saved.

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Monica D
Monica D6 months ago

Thank you for this article. The world needs to move to ecofriendly options, in transport and in other areas.

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Brian de Castro
Brian de Castroabout a year ago

Anyone in Congress )Republicans) who block measures to address climate change should be brought up on charges for threatening the future of the planet. How ignorant, shortsighted , thoughtless and greedy can they be that they would favor oil, gas, coal and lumber companies ahead of the overwhelming evidence around the world by every scientist who isn't bought and paid for by the likes of the Kochs? I mean, Glacier National Park will soon have no glaciers! How much proof do you need? Are you going to blame that on the Chinese, Trump? The whole world agrees climate change is the pressing issue and met in Paris to do something, except Republicans, We should make them all live in the desert while awaiting trial.

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

Nathan D., Robert Swan sounds an idiot!!

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Nathan D.
Nathan Dabout a year ago

"The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it," Robert Swan.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Pabout a year ago

And it is just getting started....

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Climate Change Is Altering Everything Forever.

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

Shirley S., then I guess the earth is not really warming up in some places. Where I live, it has already cooled down some.

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Shirley S.
Shirley Sabout a year ago

Climate change is real here in AU. Instead of nice Spring weather we are still experiencing extremely chilly Winter days & nights.

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

Brian F., I know you find saving the world too difficult with all the money-hungry organizations, and all those that work for them. But always remember one thing! As long as there is breath in even good people in this world, there is always hope. Yes, it is sad that almost daily there are articles about animals going extinct, but with petitions, awareness, activists and regular people willing to help out whenever they can, there's still hope of the planet and everything that still exists on it. We (the people who care) really need to start taking immediate action (without permission from our corrupted world leaders) That's a big part of the problem, besides the people doing all the killing/destroying, because the government is holding us (the people who care) back from doing things that we know is right, but at the same time gets us in trouble. The time has come to finally rebel against our corrupted government, and take back our freedom to do what we know is right!! Heck, if the Sea Shepherd and the Black Mambas can fight for the animals, and the environment without permission, than why can't we?? And while we're at it, we should push for free birth control. Change for the better should always start with those who care, and we should start looking for more people to joining the fight.

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