By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
America’s national parks are well-loved by Americans of all political leanings due to their immense beauty, function in preserving the past, and their iconic role in our history. But the findings of a new study released yesterday by the National Parks Conservation Association on the State of America’s National Parks show that efforts to protect national parks are more challenging than ever in the face of climate change. Indeed, it is an ironic reality that parks — the natural reserves that we will depend on to help our country and its natural resources adapt to climate change — are themselves threatened by it and other human influences. The addition of climate change to the already-evident stressors of invasive species, industrial development, degraded water, and dirty air will have an unprecedented, compounding effect on national parks, and will severely limit their abilities to bounce back from the impacts that they are already feeling:
Climate change poses a long-term threat to park resources by exacerbating landscape fragmentation and complicating traditional approaches to resource management.
Climate change is a “systemic threat” to the character and appeal of national parks, chipping away at what makes them unique and loved in the first place: glaciers melting in Glacier National Park, Joshua trees disappearing from Joshua Tree National Park, redwoods threatened in Redwood National Park, and the coral reefs surrounding Virgin Islands National Park getting bleached with rising sea temperatures.
A few weeks ago, Think Progress reported on three prominent Republicans speaking out in support of parks, an odd occurrence in an era where public lands are politicized more than ever before. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), on the influential House Appropriations Committee, noted that fighting for the park service budget is her “number one priority” in advance of the parks’ 100th anniversary in 2016. But Republicans on committees overseeing the national park service continue to deny the very existence of man-made global warming:
- Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), the self-crowned hero of the park service budget: “I believe the jury is still out on whether mankind can alter global climate trends.” [Lummis]
- Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Land: “Despite the fact that scientific data underlying the studies of global warming appear to have been manipulated to produce an intended outcome, EPA officials disregarded the contaminated science, calling it little more than a ‘blip on the history of this process.’”
” [Bishop, 12/08/09]
- Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment: “While scientists cannot explain the climate changes of the past few decades without including the effects of elevated greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations resulting from the use of fossil fuels, there is widespread disagreement as to the magnitude of human influence on the climate and the degree to which any effort by humanity to reduce carbon output would slow or reverse the effects of climate change.” [Simpson]
- Every GOP member of those subcommittees: The seven GOP members of the Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee and the 13 members of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands all supported H.R. 910 to reverse the scientific endangerment finding that greenhouse pollution threatens the public welfare [Dirty Secrets]
Major cuts have already been made on the National Park Service budget this year, which will keep the agency from being able to address man-made crises that national parks are facing. The Continuing Resolution passed by Republicans to fund the government through September made $11.5 million in cuts to the national park system when compared to FY 2010 levels. The FY 2012 is still in the midst of being worked out in Appropriations Committee, but House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s “roadmap,” passed by the House in April, cut funding to Interior and environment agencies by $2.1 billion. The park system will be underfunded, at a time when they are the most vulnerable to climate change.
Despite the pressure from deniers, the National Park Service is already undertaking efforts to anticipate and adapt to a changing world, such as the Climate Change Response Council, the creation of which Republicans bashed. As National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said in 2010, “I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.” And the park service has an important role in the face of climate change, the NPCA report explains:
The National Park Service is in a unique position among federal agencies to communicate to the public both the consequences of climate change and the opportunities to avert some of those consequences by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As the National Parks Conservation Association noted in its report, “the threats facing America’s national parks are serious and sobering. Our parks are becoming biological lifeboats in a changing and challenging landscape.” We should take this call to action seriously — it’s the only way that our parks will survive.