Climate Change Could Threaten California Parks, Economy: New Report

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 27, 2010

A California wilderness that became an American icon through the black-and-white images of legendary photographer Ansel Adams could lose some of its sparkle for future generations, according to a sobering new report.

Yosemite National Park is one of 10 national parks in California expected to undergo climate changes this century because of manmade carbon emissions, according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The joint report, “California’s National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption,” was released Oct. 26.

The sobering projections about the impact of climate changes on national parks in California echo the organizations’ 2009 review of 25 national parks across the United States.

“With what the California Climate Change Center calls ‘medium-high’ future emissions of heat-trapping gases, the average of six climate models is for Yosemite National Park to get 7.5 degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter by 2070-2099 than it was in 1961-1990,” the two organizations announced in a press release about their new report.

The report’s lead author was Stephen Saunders, RMCO president and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior over the National Park Service. The report’s co-author was Tom Easley, also of RMCO.

“We need to reduce heat-trapping pollution to keep these national parks the special places that Americans know and love,” Saunders said. “If we keep changing the climate the way we are, it will hurt tourism and the state’s economy. In California, climate disruption is a jobs killer.”

California’s national parks are enjoyed by 34 million visitors a year. The parks contribute more than $1 billion and 19,000 jobs to the state’s annual economic activity, said Theo Spencer, a senior advocate in NRDC’s Climate Center.

The new report estimates that:

• Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks could get 7.6 degrees hotter.

• Point Reyes National Seashore could see temperatures rise by 6 degrees.

• Death Valley National Park, already the hottest spot in North America, could get 8.1 degrees hotter.

• Joshua Tree National Park’s temperatures could rise by 7.4 degrees.

• Mojave National Preserve’s temperatures could go up by 8 degrees.

• Yosemite Falls, fed mostly by melting snow, could dry up more often and earlier in summers.

Coastal fog decreasing

Already, according to the report, higher temperatures have reduced by 30 percent the coastal fog that provides half of the water supply for the redwood forests in Redwood National Park and Muir Woods National Monument.

“A continued decrease in the fog could keep the coastal redwoods from growing to the astonishing heights that make them the world’s tallest trees,” the agencies said.

Higher temperatures would threaten the Joshua trees, which need freezing temperatures to set seeds. The iconic trees dominate the national park named after them, and are found in Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve.

The report says pine and fir trees in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are dying more quickly. It also says projected sea level increases of from 2 to 4.7 feet in this century, as estimated by the California Climate Change Center, “would lead to flooding by storm surges and the permanent inundate of low-lying areas in Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Redwood National Park.”

Rising sea levels

The higher sea levels would flood California beaches, wetlands, historic structures, highways and roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, and a visitor center.

The new report about the dangers of climate change was released as California voters are about to decide the fate of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as AB 32, the state’s 2006 effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Critics of AB 32 say that if voters approve the proposal Nov. 2, it will restrict job growth during a time of high unemployment.

Yosemite was Adams’ favorite getaway, according to his 400-page autobiography. He first visited the Sierra wilderness in 1916 when he was 14. His photos of the park’s monoliths gave the park international publicity. Adams died in 1984. His family runs the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley.

The 2010 report on national parks in California is available online at

The two agencies’ 2009 report on 25 national parks across the nation is available online at

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Oct 27th, 2010

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