Healthy and General

National Parks being threatened by climate change

3 min read

National parks preserve the United States’ most unique cultural sites and natural landscapes, connecting visitors to their outdoor surroundings with dramatic views, elaborate trails and endangered wildlife.

But these natural wonders are ecologically vulnerable as climate change yields weather events that are more common and extreme.

A national park vulnerability assessment completed in 2021 by the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science directorate found that nearly 75% of parks are at risk from either the gradual effects of climate change or a more high-impact climate event like sea level rise or fire.

The overall highest vulnerability scores provide insight into what parks should be prioritized based on the information currently available. The report also determined which parks need further assessment.

Just this week, numerous homes and bridges in Yellowstone National Park were destroyed, collapsing into the murky waters of Yellowstone River as record-breaking floods and dangerous mudslides continue to plague the area. 

More:Home swept away as Yellowstone National Park is hit by major floods and mudslides

The National Park Service has been responsible for maintaining national parks and monuments since President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” in 1916. Today, NPS manages 63 parks – more than 85 million acres – in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Scientists say that frequent shifts in biomes caused by climate change stresses the importance of national parks, which provide refuge for the most vulnerable species, conserve forests and protect watersheds that provide people with clean water. 

Here’s a look at some of the parks being threatened by climate change.

North America's tallest peak, Mt. McKinley, towers 20,320 feet over Wonder Lake near Kantishna in Denali National Park on July 8, 2009.
Denali National Park visitors are treated to a close-up view of wildlife as a grizzly bear cub stops to investigate a bicycle on the front of a shuttle bus in Sable Pass on July 8, 2009.
An air tanker drops retardant while battling the Ferguson fire in Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park, California on July 21, 2018.

Areas that face a broad range of climate threats – parks on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as river-based parks in the middle of the country – were scored as high-impact areas and national priorities. 

In the last century, these popular national parks have been hit with unprecedented challenges that – despite tireless conservation efforts by thousands of employees and volunteers – continue to bend at the whims of climate change.