Climate Change is “Greatest Threat Ever” to U.S. National Parks

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New Report Identifies Top Threats and Recommendations to Protect Parks

Winter clouds over Saguaro National Park east of Tucson. Photo by Simmons Buntin.
Winter clouds over Saguaro National Park east of Tucson. Photo by Simmons Buntin.

11 Climate-Related Dangers in Parks in AK, AZ, CA, CO, FL, ID, IN, MD, MT, NJ, NY, ME, NV, NM, NC, ND, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, and WY.

Editor’s note: Video is available at:

Denver and New York (October 1, 2009) — Climate change from human activity is the leading threat to wildlife, plants, water and ice in 25 of America’s national parks, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO).

The report, National Parks in Peril, comes on the heels of the introduction of clean energy and climate legislation in the U.S. Senate, as well as Ken Burns’ national parks series on PBS, which has put parks in the center of America’s national conscience.

The RMCO/NRDC report outlines 11 climate-related threats and the needed remedies for the following national parks (in alphabetical order):  Acadia National Park; Assateague Island National Seashore; Bandelier National Monument; Biscayne National Park; Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Colonial National Historical Park; Denali National Park and Preserve; Dry Tortugas National Park; Ellis Island National Monument; Everglades National Park; Glacier National Park; Great Smoky 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; and Zion National Park.

“As a country, we need to ensure that our parks have a future that is as promising as their past,” said Theo Spencer, senior advocate for the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Clean energy legislation is now moving in Congress that would help preserve our national treasures, while creating more jobs, economic growth and national security.”

The report outlines climate-related threats in 25 parks spanning 22 states. The top risks include: loss of snow and water, rising seas, more extreme weather, loss of plants and wildlife, and more pollution.

“Climate disruption is the greatest threat ever to our national parks. We could lose entire national parks for the first time, as Everglades, Ellis Island, and other parks could be submerged by rising seas,” said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the report’s principal author. “To preserve our parks, we need to reduce the heat-trapping gases that are threatening them, and begin managing the parks to protect resources at risk.”   

Remedies, which are outlined in the report, include enacting comprehensive clean energy legislation, including reducing carbon pollution by at least 20 percent below current levels by 2020; increasing investment in energy efficiency; and accelerating the development of clean energy technologies. The National Parks Service also needs to prioritize this issue by enacting policies to mitigate the impacts of global warming; and should have more funding for research and to reduce the effects of climate change.

Bill Wade, chair of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) and former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, said: “National parks are often referred to as the ‘canaries in the mine shafts’ when it comes to climate change. By their very characteristics and locations, impacts and effects of climate change are noticed in national parks first and are a forewarning about what will happen elsewhere. That’s why this report is particularly important.”

For the full report, including the list of the National Parks, go to:

The report and more information about national parks and global warming is also at: is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.