Climate Change in National Parks

Giant sequoia
Giant sequoia habitat is moving to higher elevations. Can the trees make the move?

NPS photo

Many of our country's national parks are located in extreme environments. This makes them more vulnerable to changes in climate. Parks are seeing environmental changes, including metling glaciers, larger and more frequent wildfires, changes in seasonality, drought stress, and more invasive species. Here are some effects being observed in California's national park sites:

Joshua Tree National Park
Rising temperatures are affecting the reproduction of Joshua trees, potentially forcing the elimination of this signature species from the park. The loss of Joshua trees will impact the entire ecosystem, including the co-dependent Yucca moths, and mean the loss of a celebrated cultural symbol from the area.

Yosemite National Park
Trees at Yosemite National Park and across the Sierra Range are dying due to drought stress. Denser forests (due to fire supression), warmer temperatures, and extended drought have led to water demands that exceed supplies.

Lava Beds National Monument
Pikas are moving to higher altitudes to escape rising temepratures. Eventually, they will run out of options. Scientists at Lava Beds National Monument view the range shift as an indicator of warming in western North America.

Learn More

Read the recent study, "Disproportionate magnitude of climate change in United States national parks", to learn more about how our national parks are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

A comparison photo - the glacier is much bigger in 1883 than it is in 2015
Lyell “Glacier” in Yosemite National Park covers only 22% of the area it once did in the 1880s. Since it is no longer big enough to move, it is now an icefield. Glaciers are rapidly melting across the nation’s glacial parks, contributing to sea level rise and ecosystem change.

Last updated: October 16, 2020

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