Climate Change: The End of National Parks

Our national parks are dwindling and fading away and a majority of the damage has occurred in the last decade. The National Parks Service has declared 412 national parks and monuments threatened because of loss of glaciers, rising sea level, wildfires, and rising temperatures. Ecosystems are in danger and national icons like Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty may not make it the next time a hurricane hits the East Coast. National Parks we all grew up with like the Glacier National Park and Yellowstone are at risk of becoming memories if we do not take action in limiting the effects of climate change. We can see the demise of Glacier National Park in the following video:

The loss of Glacier National Parks has many different consequences and they are outlined by the National Park Service in their brief. One of the most important being the rise in sea level caused by the extra run-off, which I discussed in a previous update, and affecting the local environment and ecological systems. By producing more run-off than usual, rivers and streams will overflow, causing displacement of fish and other species that rely on them as water sources. In the past 50 years, the glaciers have lost 85% of their masses with some losing 30% in the last decade

The once great park with over 150 glaciers now has around 30 because of global warming. Of those remaining glaciers, only 26 can actually be considered glaciers as they exceed 25 acres, the standard. The glaciers themselves are only an effect that is easy for us to measure, but the surrounding environment in the park is being affected just as much. The warmer winters hitting Montana are certainly not helping matters, and a big cool-down is needed to have any chance of saving this national landmark.

Another park that may be gone by the end of the century is Yosemite. While the forest surrounding accounts for most of the park, the great geysers that once attracted tourists from around the world are only a fraction of what they once were. The geysers erupt less frequently when the climate is particularly dry, so with global warming lessening the amount of rainfall while also raising the temperature, it is the perfect storm to decrease the amount of eruptions occurring each day. Yosemite is also home to over 35 species of trees that are in danger from being burned by the raging fires that currently engulf northern California. There are 3 fires in Yosemite Park that are only 85% contained, but there are 9 other fires in smaller national forests that are still burning fiercely and give no indication of slowing down in the next few days. These fires give off smoke and carbon dioxide which then goes into the atmosphere and does not really help solve the issue of trying to cut down greenhouse gases. The fires are more prominent and dangerous now because the increase in temperature and lack of rainfall in the summer has dried out the brittle brush that covers much of California, allowing it to catch fire much more easily. The winds are pushing the fires into both Yosemite National Park and Glacier National Park, putting our preserved parks at risk.

A national park near and dear to my heart is the Grand Canyon National Park. A monumental aspect of this national treasure is the Colorado River, but even the seventh-largest river is not immune to the effects of climate change. When rowing down the river, it is hard to miss the white rings that make up the lower half of the rock walls. Those lines indicate that the river is now 130 feet lower than it was in 2000, and it will only decrease from there. Many factors are the cause of this: rising temperatures and decrease in rainfall resulting in higher evaporation rates. These lower levels are causing fish and other aquatic life to either die off or move to other actuaries that can sustain their life. Additionally, original settlers in the southern Arizona mountains built their homes into the mountains, but the excessive rainfall in that region is causing the historic structures to slide out of the mountain. The region is not accustomed to receiving that amount of rainfall and was never expected to receive that rainfall, but climate change had other plans. We could lose these pieces of ancient architecture if there is no drastic change.

These national parks are a part of history, but if we do not try to halt the effects of climate change, we will soon only be able to see them on postcards and in pictures. Preserves and national parks allow us to save a piece of the environment from industrialism, but they are now deteriorating because of the damage we have done to the environment. The fragile eco-systems will not be able to last if there is too great of damage and we could lose them forever. If we are not more careful with how we treat Earth, we will harm everything that is on our planet, including us. We need to ask ourselves if we want to be the cause of the end of national parks and how their end would affect the environment surrounding them.

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