Latest Climate Change Report Lists 25 National Parks Most At Risk

Another report on climate change and its impacts on national parks arrived Thursday, with a list of 25 parks most at risk. While it offered no real new recommendations beyond those that have been called for by previous reports, the authors of National Parks In Peril, The Threats of Climate Disruption voiced optimism that corporate America is becoming more concerned about climate change and would become a force in addressing the problem and its impacts.

Prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, the 54-page report touched on many of the same impacts mentioned earlier this year in the National Park Conservation Association's climate change report, Climate Change and National Park Wildlife, A Survival Guide for a Warming World, as well as in a 2008 report issued by NRDC and RMCO, Hotter and Drier: The West's Changed Climate.

As with the previous reports, this latest one also pointed to rising sea levels, vanishing forests, receding and even disappearing glaciers, habitat loss, drought as well as unusually potent downpours, and wildfire as climate-change-driven threats -- and actual impacts currently being noticed -- to wildlife and natural and cultural resources in the national parks. Its recommendations also sounded familiar: Provide corridors for plants and animals to use in escaping warming temperatures; reduce emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane; enlarge existing national parks and create new ones for habitat preservation; reduce non-climate-related stressors to the environment, such as pollution and development, and; educate the public on climate change and its threats.

The 25 most-threatened by parks, and what impacts they are encountering, or can be expected to, according to National Parks in Peril are:

Acadia National Park -- Loss of snow, higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Assateague Island National Seashore -- Higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Bandelier National Monument -- Loss of snow, drier, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Biscayne National Park -- Higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Cape Hatteras National Seashore -- Higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Colonial National Historical Park -- Higher seas, more potent storms
Denali National Park and Preserve -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Dry Tortugas National Park -- Higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Ellis Island National Monument -- Higher seas, more potent storms
Everglades National Park -- Higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Glacier National Park -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- Loss of snow, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore -- Loss of snow, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Joshua Tree National Park -- More potent storms, loss of plant communities
Lake Mead National Recreation Area -- Loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Mesa Verde National Park -- Loss of snow, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Mount Rainier National Park -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Padre Island National Seashore -- Higher seas, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Rocky Mountain National Park -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Saguaro National Park -- Loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Theodore Roosevelt National Park -- More potent storms, loss of plant communities
Virgin Islands National Park/Virgin Islands
Coral Reef National Monument
-- Higher seas, more potent storms
Yellowstone National Park -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Yosemite National Park -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities
Zion National Park -- Loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more potent storms, loss of plant communities

"Global warming is impacting our parks now," Theo Spencer, senior advocate for the NRDC's Climate Center told reporters during a conference call that stretched from coast to coast. "This report focuses on parks at risk, but many parks, including all of these on the list, are experiencing changes due to global warming now. So this is not a future threat, it's something that's impacting our parks now."

Mr. Spencer referred to the American spirit in explaining why the report focuses on national parks, and not some other aspect of the American landscape.

"National parks are uniquely American as some of you know from watching the (Ken Burns) series on PBS. There's a lot attention on this," he said. "We had the foresight to create the world's first national park, Yellowstone, and on the arch at Yellowstone when you enter it (from Gardiner), it says in part, 'For the People.' That's engraved. And in creating the first national park, Yellowstone, we showed leadership and an understanding that our natural world is part of the public trust. We have to protect our special places, and that's one of the reasons why we're issuing this report."

Mr. Spencer and the other two gentlemen addressing the media -- Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and an Interior Department official during the Clinton administration -- talked of losing national parks to some of these impacts (Everglades and Dry Tortugas, for instance, could be swallowed up by rising seas, said Mr. Saunders) and referred to the parks as "canaries in the coal mine" that offer a forewarning of what climate change will do elsewhere in the country.

While some have said it's too late to stop climate-change impacts that will spread across the landscape during the next half-century, and that what work is occurring now is aimed at the ensuing 50 years, Mr. Saunders was adamant that how the nation approaches climate change now can make a difference in our lifetimes.

"I actually am a raging optimist on the climate change issue," he said. "I think we're going to address this, and I think that our country has dealt well with bigger and harder problems before. When I look back at what we were doing during the Civil War and dealing with slavery and the dissolution of the Union, this is an easy one compared to that. The good news is that the things that we can do will save us money and make our economies stronger at the national level and at the personal level. That's not to say it's going to be easy. That's not saying that it has happened, but I am optimistic that we are going to do what we should be doing.

"I would also disagree with the assessment that things are already toast," Mr. Saunders continued. "We probably have about 2 degrees Fahrenheit of additional warming that already has built into our future because of the emissions that are up there already, and their continuing effect, and greenhouse gases, heat-trapping gases, often have a very long lifetime. And we're certainly not able to turn off all future emissions right away. But whether we have 2 degrees, at the low end, or whether we have 7 to 11 degrees in just this century and just this country, is an enormous difference. If we're keeping it down around 2 degrees Fahrenheit, our National Park System and our national parks, and our country will not be toast. If we let things continue to unfold as they have been, we could easily be at 7, 11 or even more, and then we are going to have huge, devastating impacts on our national parks and elsewhere."

While the National Park Service was criticized in the report and during the conference call for not taking deliberate action in combating climate change, when it was pointed out that the agency often follows the lead of the presiding administration in the White House and the party in control of Congress, Mr. Spencer was optimistic that corporate America would see that the country confronts climate change head on regardless of politics.

"I think what's happening in the corporate sector now is a cause for optimism," he said. "Don't listen to us enviros, listen to Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, or listen to the CEOs of Alcoa, DuPont, Dow, some of the biggest corporations in this country. (They) are not only saying that global warming and climate change is real, they're saying we need to do something about it, and they proposed very specific recommendations. They formed an organization called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which really is a who's who of corporate America. And they're putting pressure on Congress to enact binding limits, and that means meaningful limits that will get us to at least 80 percent reductions below our current levels by 2050, and that's what scientists say we need to do to keep ourselves within that 2 degrees Fahrenheit frame that Stephen mentioned.

"So there's real corporate leadership here, and we're not just talking about companies that are not emitting the pollution. Duke Energy, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the United States -- in fact I think they're the third largest emitter -- is part of that group. So is Pacific Gas and Electric, so is PNM Resources in New Mexico. And there are the big three automakers, there are big oil companies that are part of that," continued Mr. Spencer. "Businesses want certainty to make the huge capital outlays that they know they're going to have to make over the next 20, 30, 50 years. Those infrastructural and other capital outlays are hugely expensive. A new power plant costs about $6 billion. They want to know what kind of emissions controls are going to have to be on that power plant, so they want certainty, and they also see tremendous business opportunity in leading on this issue.

"Not to wax rhapsodic about it," he said, "but if you think back on it, America has led every major technological revolution of the last two centuries. And we're faced with another one now, and we don't want some other country, like China or India, to take our place."