The Worst Threat to Our Parks

Climate change is the greatest threat the national parks have ever faced. Nearly everything we know and love about the parks — their plants and animals, rivers and lakes, glaciers, beaches, historic structures, and more — is already under stress from these changes, which together amount to a state of crisis for our public lands. National parks can help us understand what is at risk if we fail to seriously address the climate crisis.

Factor by which the temperatures in national park areas increased compared to the U.S. as a whole, from 1895 to 2010*

These 10 examples demonstrate how climate change is affecting the parks, based on NPCA’s analysis of the latest available science. This is an overview of the worst effects, and the research and our understanding of the dangers is continually evolving. What we do know is that all parks are impacted.

Climate Impact

Rising Sea Levels

Rising ocean levels could inundate freshwater habitats and coastal communities, harming plant and animal life and threatening historic structures in dozens of national parks along America’s coastlines.

climate impact


Hotter, drier summers and increasingly intense wildfire seasons could change the makeup of park forests and dramatically affect visitor health

Climate Impact

Harm to Wildlife

Warmer, drier conditions threaten park animals in a variety of ways, from habitat loss to food scarcity to competition from invasive species, challenging their ability to survive

Climate Impact

Extreme Weather Damage

Higher waves and more intense weather patterns are battering coastal ecosystems and threatening historic structures and artifacts

Climate Impact

History and Culture

Rising ocean levels and intensifying storms threaten to inundate and destroy irreplaceable park structures and artifacts across the country

Climate Impact

Drought and Water Availability

Hotter, drier conditions are making it more difficult for park plants and wildlife to get the water they need to survive

Climate Impact

Recreation and Visitation

Warming temperatures, severe weather patterns and changes in wildlife behavior could harm valuable tourism revenue at some parks while creating dramatic overcrowding at others

Climate Impact

Loss of Snow and Ice

Warming temperatures are melting glaciers and ice at an alarming rate, reshaping parks and creating new hazards for visitors

climate impact

Changing Landscapes

The climate crisis is causing interconnected and significant disruptions to park ecosystems as we know them, shifting plant and animal populations, drying up water sources, and threatening nearby communities

Climate Impact

Invasive Species

Hotter and drier conditions have allowed non-native animals and plants to thrive, spreading diseases and crowding out vulnerable park species

*Gonzalez, P. et al. 2018. Disproportionate magnitude of climate change in United States national parks. Environmental Research Letters. Vol. 13(10). LINK

Parks and Climate Change

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