Parks in Peril

In July, the US National Parks Service released a report confirming that 289 of America’s parks and historic sites are feeling the brunt of climate change. Parks are getting hotter, enduring more severe spikes in temperature, and suffering massive flooding, raging wildfires, or losing coastlines to erosion and rising seas. These changes impact the vegetation and wildlife and put at risk artifacts that inform us about this country’s rich history.

1 Bering Land Bridge National Monument, Alaska

The first humans to populate North America arrived from Siberia 15,000 years ago across what’s now the Bering Land Bridge National Monument. The region is littered with artifacts, helping archeologists piece together the story of North American history. Melting permafrost has damaged some cultural sites while coastal erosion washes away artifacts.

2 Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

The Sierra Nevada has seen its fire season extended and has been plagued by invasive species once killed by hard freezes. The biggest concern is the giant sequoia trees. Scientists say consistently high temperatures may lead to a die-off of the 3,500-year-old behemoths.

3 Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historic Park, Hawai‘i

This park on the western side of Hawaii’s Big Island is home to ancient structures that were used for trapping fish, as well as the Aimakapā fishpond, used to raise fish for royal chiefs. Some of these may be more than 600 years old. The park beachfront is currently eroding at a rate of three to four inches per year.

map of North America and Hawai'i, locations of endangered parks numbered

4 Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

The waters temperature around these “Jewels of Lake Superior” is warmer these days, making the area a good breeding ground for invasive species and causing infestations and increased flooding.

5 Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The steep red walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site remain unchanged, but future visitors may find less wildlife to admire as a persistent drought, now in its thirteenth year, has dried the seeps and springs that sustain desert wildlife.

6 Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Devastating, hard-to-control wildfires fueled by hotter weather means that the unique sixth-century archeological sites – about 5,000 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings – of the Pueblo Native Americans may not hold on for very long.

7 Everglades National Park, Florida

Perched on the edge of a rising ocean, the nation’s largest subtropical wilderness is a bastion for rare and endangered species such as the American crocodile, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee. The park’s land and waters are getting increasingly saline, forcing fresh-water loving critters and mangroves to move inland.

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