Forest ecologists and firefighters in California’s Yosemite National Park are taking extraordinary steps to protect ancient sequoia trees — including the Grizzly Giant, the park’s oldest and second largest — from increasingly severe forest fires fueled by climate change, according to the New York Times.
They’re wrapping them in flame-retardant blankets, soaking the surrounding ground in hundreds of gallons of water per minute, creating walls of mist around the trees, and much more.
Their efforts have prevented some of the most storied and towering trees from becoming charred stumps, but it’s unclear how long the flames can be held back in the years to come.
Already, the Washburn fire has burned 3,000 acres in the southern part of the park in what could be just a glimpse of the megafires on the horizon.
A firefighter protects a sequoia tree as the Washburn Fire burns in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on July 8, 2022.
A 2018 analysis by a team of researchers found that national parks throughout the US are facing more severe climate impacts than the rest of the country, largely because they’re often located in extreme environments, such as Alaska, and because they encompass vulnerable ecosystems.
They surveyed 417 parks and found that, on average, parks are getting hotter and drier than the rest of the country. You know what that means: more fires and endangered wildlife.
Yellowstone National Park, meanwhile, is facing unprecedented flooding as severe rainfall melts deeply packed mountainous snow, inundating the lower terrain.
It’s not just the US where national parks are threatened by climate change. All around the world, precious and protected environments are under increasing strain.
Here are seven parks being harmed by climate change.
1. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, US
Researchers found that the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii has experienced a sharp decline in rainfall since 1895 as a result of shifting precipitation patterns. Combined with rising temperatures, the lack of rainfall has made it difficult for native species to cope within the park.
Increasingly dry conditions especially imperils endangered plants that call the park home, as it forces them to shrink their ranges, potentially pushing them into extinction, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
2. Denali National Preserve, Alaska, US
The Denali National Preserve covers 6 million acres of wild land and hosts 39 species of mammals, 169 species of birds, and one species of amphibian, according to the NPS.
But this vast and varied landscape is endangered by climate change. In fact, the researchers found that the park experienced the highest temperature spike of all the sampled parks. Temperatures have jumped nearly 2 degrees Celsius since records have been kept, according to National Geographic, which is causing the park’s permafrost to melt, destabilizing the ground and releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
3. Kaziranga National State Park, Assam, India
An estimated 36% of protected areas throughout Northern India near the Eastern Himalayas are “severely threatened” by climate change, according to a recent study published in the scientific journal Trees, Forests, and People.
The Kaziranga National State Park, for instance, has experienced rapidly escalating temperatures, less rainfall, and more extreme weather events over the past 50 years. The park is home to threatened animals such as “the Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, gaur, sambar deer, hog deer, and the hoolock gibbon,” according to Mongabay.
Without a global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, along with domestic efforts in India to create buffer zones around the parks, animal populations will continue to decline in the years ahead.
4. Chingaza National Park, Cundinamarca and Meta, Colombia
The Chingaza National Park provides 70% of Bogotá’s water through a natural filtration system, made up of vegetation and underground aquifers, called a páramo. But this páramo is threatened by climate change, according to Bloomberg News.
As temperatures rise, the plants that help to filter and store the water are being stressed. Additionally, increasing droughts are making it harder for the páramo to replenish. Without urgent action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and contain the climate crisis, Bogotá will have a much harder time getting water in the future.
5. Camargue, Bouches-du-Rhône, France
The Camargue is a massive wetland spanning more than 930 square kilometers in the south of France. The vital role it plays as a safe haven for wildlife, including its famed flamingos, along with its ability to foster unique foods such as rice have earned it the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But this special wetland is endangered by climate change, as sea levels rise and disrupt its salt to water ratio, and rising temperatures disrupt plant and animal life, according to Euro News.
As global temperatures cause ice sheets and glaciers to melt in the polar regions, sea levels will continue to rise and further flood the Camargue.
6. Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaidō, Japan
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Shiretoko National Park “is one of the richest integrated ecosystems in the world, encompassing both terrestrial and marine areas.”
The lush ecosystem, home to a large brown bear population that feeds on abundant coastal salmon, owes its complexity to the “single most dynamic sea ice factory,” according to the Washington Post. But as rising temperatures cause sea ice to melt, the region is becoming destabilized, with one of the first disruptions being plummeting salmon populations that rely on the ice to breed.
7. Mount Kenya National Park, Kenya
Rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall is making Mount Kenya National Park a drier place, which jeopardizes the country’s water supply and endangers local wildlife. Animals such as rhinos, giraffes, lions, and hundreds of birds have extensive habitats in the park that are being strained by climate change.
In the years ahead, scientists fear that glaciers atop the mountain will irrevocably melt, further diminishing annual water supplies.