Climate Change in Grand Canyon 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.

“To preserve our national parks for ourselves and future generations, we need to both stop changing the climate and take actions to preserve the resources and values that make our parks special.” CNRDC and RMCO, National Parks in Peril

California Condor The California Condor has already faced extinction in the wild once before. Thanks to various conservation efforts, their numbers are now on the rise. But those numbers could be in jeopardy due to rising average temperatures. Warming climates and reduced precipitation during milder winters will have dramatic consequences for water availability throughout the Southwest, their native range.

Bighorn Sheep Desert Bighorn sheep in Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Canyonlands, Zion, and Great Basin National Parks face extinction. California’s bighorn sheep populations have already dwindled from 80 to 30 locations.

Grizzly Bears 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.”

Pikas 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.

Mountain Lions are a symbol of wilderness. This powerful, secretive predator requires ample space and food to survive. But sadly, many lions are losing their homes because they are being forced out of their natural habitats due to species migration and temperature changes. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has stated that losing more than one mountain lion per year could significantly alter the ecosystem.

Glaciers 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.

Geysers 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.”

Joshua Trees Rising temperatures might cause more than 90% of this iconic tree to disappear from its namesake park within a century.