Tell Your Senators to Save Our National Parks from Global Warming

I still remember my first visit to a national park. I was nine years old, and my family traveled to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. For a child from Northern New Jersey, it was a revelation. I was stunned by the scale of everything: the open sky, the unending pine forests, and the peaks that towered over Jackson Lake. I spent most of my time in the saddle--like many young girls, I was horse crazy back then--and fell thoroughly in love with the wild western landscape. That's me in the photo.

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I recently shared those memories with Channel 13, New York's local PBS station, for a video accompanying Ken Burns' fantastic documentary series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

I am sure many of you can recall your first visit to a national park, or perhaps a beloved hike, climb, or sunset viewpoint. Burns' documentary does a great job of illustrating how deeply the park system has become embedded in our personal, family, and national traditions.

But despite our country's valiant efforts to protect these iconic lands, the parks are now facing the most powerful threat in their history--more potent even than industrial development, states-rights advocates, or Teddy Roosevelt's original opponents.

That force is global warming. And unlike mining, drilling, or grazing, it does not observe National Park Service boundaries. It undermines every landscape in its path.

A new report released by NRDC and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization called Parks in Peril details the ways climate change is altering the seasons, wildlife habitat, and flower-filled meadows we thought were preserved forever. It identifies the 25 most imperiled parks, and says that Glacier National Park could lose all its glaciers, Joshua Tree National Park all its Joshua trees, and Saguaro National Park all is saguaros.

The report also describes how my beloved Grand Tetons is threatened. Already, as a result of warming, its glaciers are melting, its snowpack is diminishing, and its breathtaking stands of aspen trees are dying off in something called "sudden aspen decline." The park now looks different from the one I saw when I returned at 14 for camp.

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We don't have to let these treasures go. If we take steps now to curb our global warming pollution, we can preserve the values and natural resources that make our parks unique.

Back in 1916, Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act to create the agency charged with protecting the parks.

Now it is time for Congress to pass a clean energy and climate law in order to safeguard our parks--and all our lands--from global warming. The House passed just such a law in June, and now the Senate is debating its version.

This Senate bill has many foes in the oil and gas industry, and passing it will require Americans to speak up in the name of our natural heritage.

Ken Burns' documentary reveals that we have an admirable history of doing just that. The series celebrates not just the beauty of the parks, but also the spirit which inspired their creation: the distinctly American idea that these places should be preserved, not for the elite or for private industry, but for everyone.

Generations of dedicated Americans fought to carve these parks into being. Yes, the effort started with the likes of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt (see my recent post about his new biography), but it also included ordinary citizens who did the hard work of surveying, writing letters, and calling on their lawmakers to protect precious wildlands.

We need to show the same vision for preserving great landscapes. We need to be fired up by the same passion for wilderness and natural beauty. And we need to feel the same impatience to get the job done.

We need to tell our senators to pass a climate bill now, so we can preserve our national parks for generations to come.