Climate Change in Yellowstone and Other National Parks
Our National Parks are some of the best-protected places on earth. Yet climate change and environmental degradation have already begun impacting the parks and will continue to pose significant threats in the future if we don’t act to reverse the current trend of global warming.
“If we continue to increase our emissions of heat-trapping gases, a disrupted climate will cause the greatest damage to our national parks ever.”
~ Stephen Saunders, NRDC
In Yellowstone, the grizzly bear relies on the seeds of the whitebark pine as an important part of its diet. Sadly, these trees are being destroyed at an alarming rate by a beetle that is thriving because of increasing temperatures. NRDC senior wildlife advocate Louisa Wilcox raises the alarm. “If these trees go, they could take Yellowstone’s grizzlies…with them. If we want to save not just the whitebark pine, but the animals and plants like the grizzly bear that depend on this tree for food, we need to move to protect and restore them now.”
Amphibians are disappearing worldwide—over 1/3 of all species are on the verge of extinction. In Yellowstone National Park, 3 of the 4 amphibian species are in significant decline. In Yosemite National Park, the mountain yellow-legged frog is showing decreases of a staggering 95 to 98%. Organizations like Save the Frogs http://www.savethefrogs.com/ and Amphibian Ark http://www.amphibianark.org/ are helping to protect amphibians and stop the trend of extinctions.
The American pika is threatened by rising temperatures that have significantly diminished its habitat. Also nicknamed boulder bunnies, these cold-loving, alpine dwelling creatures can perish from overheating. In 2003, the World Wildlife Fund sponsored a study that found pikas had vanished over ten-year period from 7 of 25 sites in Nevada, California, and Oregon. In 2008, the pika became the first mammal in the lower 48 to be considered for endangered species status because of the impacts of global warming.
At the current accelerated rate of melt, scientists predict glaciers will disappear from Glacier National Park by 2030. In the North Cascades, the park’s total glacial mass has shrunk 80% since 1956.
Old Faithful could become less faithful as the result of climate change. A study in the June 2008 issue of Geology suggested that drought has lengthened Old Faithful’s eruption cycle. A nine-year study by Shaul Hurwitz of the U.S. Geological Survey measured the relationship between drought and geyser activity; Mr. Hurwitz predicts that if current trends continue, “Our grandchildren will have to wait longer for Old Faithful to erupt.”
Desert Bighorn sheep in Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Canyonlands, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Great Basin National Parks face extinction. California’s bighorn sheep populations have already dwindled from 80 to 30 locations.
Rising temperatures might cause more than 90% of this iconic tree to disappear from its namesake park within a century.
For more information
- The Greening of Yellowstone – Blog by Xanterra’s Environmental Director about climate change in the parks.
- National Parks and Conservation Association – The group’s report Unnatural Disasters outlines the threats our parks face.
- Natural Resources Defense Council – The NRDC’s Losing Ground Report outlines the impacts of climate disruption in twelve western states.
- National Park Service Climate Friendly Park Program – Learn about what the parks are doing to help combat climate change.