By Jessica Khorsandi
The Active Times
Imagine Joshua Tree National Park without the Joshua trees; Glacier National Park without the glaciers; or the Everglades without ... the Everglades.
Sound far fetched? It isn't.
Climate change is reshaping our planet, and while we don't yet know everything it will have in store for us in the coming century, we do know that sea levels are rising, the planet is heating up and fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce in much of the world.
This is bad news for our national parks. In the words of National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, "I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced."
In honor of Earth Day, we picked 11 parks that may be irreparably altered by climate change if nothing is done to stop its advance. The list is drawn from a joint 2009 report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Sadly, these predictions haven’t changed in the last four years.
As the climate changes, moderate rain has turned into frequent and intense downpours that have increased the likelihood of flooding, especially in Mount Rainier National Park, where 18 inches of rain fell in 36 hours in November 2006. The debris flows and floods from the storm destroyed trails, damaged campgrounds, and severed power lines, causing the park to close for six months, a time when about 170,000 people normally would have visited. According to the Park Service, the heavy rainfall "changed the landscape of the park forever."
Populations of trout, a cold-water fish, may plummet as a warming planet raises water temperatures. Grand Teton National Park has a worldwide reputation for its excellent trout fishing, as one of the only places to catch fine-spotted cutthroat trout. But with recent projections, fishing in the park may become restricted. That means a potential end to fly-fishing on the Snake River, a popular activity among tourists to the park.
With visitors flocking to cooler national parks to escape the oppressive heat, northern and mountain parks run the risk of overcrowding. In Rocky Mountain National Park, surveys suggest that as soon as 2020, the number of visitors expected to arrive could increase the number of visitor days by more than one million a year -- nearly a one third increase.
A mountain wildland that's home to bears, wolves and herds of bison and elk, Yellowstone National Park has an ecosystem in peril—especially for its grizzly population. The mountain pine beetle, which is spreading further into Yellowstone thanks to a longer warm season, is killing off the whitebark pine, a major source of food for grizzlies. The bears depend on the large and nutrient-rich seeds of this tree, but with a dwindling supply, grizzly bears will suffer a lower survival rate and lower birth rates if pregnant females lack enough fat entering hibernation.
A hotter climate is projected to worsen concentrations of ground-level ozone, an air pollutant serious enough to cause respiratory problems in some people, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ground-level ozone levels are chronically high (up to two times higher than in nearby cities), and have visibly affected sassafras and cutleaf coneflower plants, as well as forest trees. In addition, about 90 percent of black cherry trees and milkweed plants throughout the park are showing signs of ozone damage, such as reddening on plant leaves.
A combination of higher temperatures and decreased moisture threaten to eliminate the iconic joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park. If the Joshua trees go, the entire ecosystem will suffer, as animals such as the desert wood rat, blacktail jack rabbit and antelope ground squirrel, who find moisture by gnawing through the bark of live trees, with perish in extreme drought. Without its signature trees, the park would lose its unique character, and as one tourist told NPR, "It would not be Joshua Tree any longer. It would just be space."
A changed climate is destined to reduce water availability, with particular vulnerability to the Colorado Plateau, which is expected to become hotter and drier. The North Fork of the Virgin River, which carved the spectacular Zion Canyon, is drying up. Because this section of river is undammed, it depends on natural precipitation to maintain its flow—precipitation that's expected to drop significantly in coming decades. Zion's piñon forests are also threatened by reduced rainfall.
For the complete slideshow of National Parks Threatened By Climate Change, go to TheActiveTimes.com.
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-- Is Nudity In The National Parks OK? We Think So!
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