Blog Post Mark Wenzler Jan 5, 2018

Willfully Ignoring Climate Change Is a Disaster for National Parks

Trump administration repeals climate-smart management policies for national parks.

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is pursuing an aggressively pro-fossil fuels energy policy. Dating to the election campaign, he talked about rolling back federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which Trump blamed for killing coal and oil jobs, and he has loudly followed through on that promise ever since.

What’s not as well-known is that the administration is not only refusing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is willfully preventing federal land managers from taking steps to protect our national parks and other public lands from the disastrous effects of climate change.

Quietly and without fanfare, on the Friday before Christmas, the Department of the Interior eliminated 10 years’ worth of science-driven policy and planning for how to protect our national parks, public lands and waters from increasingly devastating sea-level rise, wildfires, pest infestations, drought and other impacts linked to climate change. These policies, which began to take shape under the Bush-Cheney administration, have nothing to do with energy production, yet they were eliminated under the absurd conclusion that they interfere with the president’s “energy dominance” agenda. But these policies have everything to do with listening to what science — and our own eyes — are telling us is happening to places like Yosemite, Shenandoah and Cape Hatteras, and making sure we manage them wisely.

Secretarial Order 3360, signed by Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on December 22, eliminates dozens of measures that scientists and public land managers determined are necessary to safeguard our national parks from climate change, including a 2015 Landscape Scale Mitigation Policy, and a 2012 Climate Adaptation Policy. These policies address very serious climate threats by calling on land managers to anticipate and prepare for shifting wildlife movement patterns, maintain key ecosystem services, monitor, prevent and slow the spread of invasive species, and many other common-sense measures informed by the best science.

Climate change remains the most clear and present threat facing our national parks and public lands. Places like Glacier and Joshua Tree stand to lose their namesakes, while coastal parks like Everglades and Gateway continue to grapple with the effects of extreme weather. We should be taking these threats head-on, but the Trump administration’s actions not only ignore that threat, they actively work against the government’s responsibility to care for these places. Our ability to protect our public lands grows with knowledge, and this action throws that knowledge away, tying the hands of federal land managers at a time when they need to do more to prepare for what climate change will bring. Putting our heads in the sand will not save our national parks and public lands from climate change. Only actions, based on scientific evidence and clear planning, can ensure these places will be here for future generations.

This willful mismanagement of our national parks and public lands cannot be allowed to stand. We have too much to lose from inaction on climate. The future of our national parks, lands and waters depends on management informed by science, not decisions made behind closed doors by a handful of political appointees.

About the author

  • Mark Wenzler Senior Vice President of Conservation Programs

    Mark oversees NPCA’s programs focused on protecting and restoring the air, lands, water, and wildlife in our national parks. He is an avid outdoor recreationist who loves to ski, bike, backpack and paddle, especially in our national parks.