Thinking of planning a trip to a national park you’ve always wanted to visit? You may not want to wait. Experts say national parks from coast to coast are threatened, both their landscapes and wildlife, due to global warming.
“Many of the effects of climate change have been happening faster than anybody expected, and all the parks are in some way experiencing them, whether it’s drought leading to wildfires or coastlines that are vulnerable to sea-level rise,” reported Mark Wenzler, the director of clean-air and climate programs for the National Parks Conservation Association. Some parks are even at risk of losing their most iconic features; for example, the glaciers of Glacier National Park are melting and may disappear within the next two decades.
In view of his observations, here are eight parks Wenzler recommends visiting now:
Joshua Tree National Park, California
In the high desert of Southern California, this park is named for its spiky, crooked trees that can live for hundreds of years. A giant member of the lily family, the Joshua tree provides habitat and food for many of the birds, mammals, and lizards of the Mojave Desert. The trees are endangered because they need cool winters and freezing temperatures in order to produce flowers, release their seeds, and reproduce.
Why it’s endangered: According to modeling by U.S. Geological Survey researchers, it looks as if the climate may be too warm to support the trees in the southern half of their range–which includes Joshua Tree National Park–within the next 50 to 100 years. For more information on visiting this park, go to http://www.nps.gov/jotr/.
Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska
This remote Alaskan park is one of the best places on earth to see brown bears. At the Brooks Camp, visitors watch from viewing platforms as the bears feast on native sockeye salmon. The coho and sockeye salmon in Katmai’s rivers also provide food for bald eagles,and, along with rainbow trout, make the park extremely popular with sport fishermen. The species are also important to the local fishing industry outside the park.
Why it’s endangered: Scientists are concerned that the ocean around southern Alaska (where the salmon spend much of their lives) may become too warm to support healthy salmon populations by the middle of this century. For more information on visiting Katmai, see: http://www.nps.gov/katm/.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
One hundred native tree species grow in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, inclu ding the red spruce and Fraser fir—trees that cap the park’s highest peaks. The park contains the largest block of virgin red spruce remaining on earth. The Smokies are home to many species of wildlife, including deer, raccoons, and black bears. And as the park contains more than 30 species of the dragon-like amphibians, the Smokies are also known as the “Salamander Capital of the World.”
Why it’s endangered: These forests are already threatened by acid rain and by ground-level ozone pollution. An invasive insect called the balsam woolly adelgid has destroyed many of the park’s Fraser firs. Warmer and drier conditions due to climate change could add to these stresses on the trees and eventually make conditions in the park unsuitable for their growth, according to the EPA. For more information on visiting the Smokies, visit http://www.nps.gov/grsm/.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands are a popular destination for boaters and sailors, who like the sea caves, sandy beaches, and historic lighthouses. Thirteen of the 21 islands in the park have public docks.