for National Geographic News
The U.S. National Park Service was established to conserve the country's most spectacular natural areas "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
But environmentalists warn that global warming could make that mission impossible.
A study by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that the much-loved landscapes of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and ten other national parks are at grave risk due to climate change.
The parks at risk include Montana's Glacier National Park, Grand Teton in Wyoming, Glen Canyon in Utah and Arizona, California's Death Valley and Golden Gate, Washington State's Mount Rainier and North Cascades, Colorado's Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountains parks, and Bandelier in New Mexico.
Warmer temperatures and less precipitation are threats to many park plants and animals, the report says.
Warming may also spur more frequent and severe droughts and wildfires that could close parks or reduce them to mere shells of their former grandeur.
"Climate change driven by human pollution now represents the gravest threat ever to our national parks," said report author Stephen Saunders, president of the Louisville, Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.
"We've uncovered far too much evidence that we're in danger of polluting our parks to death."
National Parks Already Changing
The study reports that the effects of global warming are already apparent.
Glaciers are in retreat in Glacier, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades parks.
(See National Geographic magazine's "Global Warning: Signs From Earth.")
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