Meet your future national parks.
Climate change is contributing to the demise of the country’s tallest, oldest trees, which are dying at 10 times the rate of smaller trees around the world. The thinning redwood and sequoia forests in California are threatened by drought, wildfires, dwindling snowpack, and even less fog (from which big trees suck up water and nutrients).
At the boundary of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the scraggly trees of Joshua Tree National Park aren’t doing so well these days. Baby Joshua trees are struggling, and scientists predict that saplings will cease to grow on 90 percent of their current habitat by the end of the century.
At Mesa Verde in Colorado, famed for its ancient cliff dwellings, juniper and pinyon trees dot the landscape. It may soon be time to lose the “Verde” as the park turns more brown than green. Wildfires have proliferated, burning over half of the park in recent decades. Scientists expect climate change to make fires even more severe.
People are trying to save these natural icons for generations to come, restoring wetlands in Florida and planting baby redwoods and sequoias in Oregon. But none of these efforts will succeed if we don’t address the larger threat—climate change. Without that, it’s clear that the national parks of the future won’t resemble the parks of today.