What if Glacier National Park no longer has glaciers?
What if Joshua Tree National Park no longer has Joshua Trees?
These are some of the questions the National Parks Service (NPS) now has to ask itself in response to climate change. Climate change is the biggest challenge NPS has faced and is fundamentally altering how it manages the U.S. National Parks . According to the director of NPS, “[climate change] is going to upset the paradigm upon which we’ve been managing for 100 years.”  Increased temperatures caused by climate change is not only directly impacting parks’ wildlife and terrain, but also increasing variability across park operations, resulting in the need for NPS to develop new competencies and operational strategies.
Rising temperatures impact each park differently, and, therefore, require individual consideration on the impact and management of climate change. For example, some parks with colder climates are faced with snow melting earlier in the season. This not only causes environmental issues, such as decreased water supply for plants and animals, but also operational and economic changes, like decreased winter sports seasons . Some parks in warmer climates are facing different challenges, such as an increasing number of wildfires . These issues impact the visitor experience and when people choose to visit the parks, lengthening the visitation season and increasing the volume of visitors in some parks while doing the reverse in others . In response, NPS needs to accommodate variability in visitor behavior and develop services to attract visitors in the off seasons and to other open parks.
Climate change is also altering the core competencies required of NPS. Staff now needs the scientific knowledge to be able to collect, analyze, and interpret relevant data, and then make important managerial decisions related to the data . This creates a talent gap that needs to be filled by hiring staff with the required scientific knowledge or providing their current employees with training and development. NPS also needs to invest in and provide the required resources and analytic and decision-support technologies necessary for scientific analysis and interpretation . Staff then needs to be able to use their findings to make decisions that have not been made previously in NPS history and determine where and how to focus limited resources . For example, should NPS assist in the migration of the thousands-of-years-old, 300-foot Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park, and if so how? Finally, staff needs to be able to identify and create key partnerships. While previously the NPS could rely on the parks’ own existing resources, due to climate change, parks are now no longer able to be self-sustaining ecosystems . To address this, it is important for NPS to collaborate and develop research and resource partnerships with academic institutions and federal agencies.
NPS, is responding to climate change in four ways :
- Using science to help parks manage climate change
- Adapting to an uncertain future
- Mitigating or reducing their carbon footprint
- Communicating to the public and employees about climate change
To manage climate change, NPS has begun to increase scientific knowledge and plans to continue to develop knowledge through collaborations with other agencies and institutions and through monitoring and studying the effects of climate change on its parks’ resources. As discoveries are made, they will be applied to support NPS’s adapting, mitigating, and communicating efforts in both the short-term and longer-term .
To adapt to an uncertain future, NPS is utilizing scenario planning to analyze potential outcomes and develop corresponding responses. The goal of scenario planning is to implement strategies in both the short-term and longer-term that will increase the resiliency of parks in response to climate change .
To mitigate national parks’ carbon footprint, NPS has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct “Climate Friendly Parks” workshops to evaluate and reduce energy usage and is focused on investing in alternatives and services that have reduced emissions (e.g., energy efficient light bulbs, electric transportation) .
To communicate to the public and employees the effects of climate change and create a call to action, NPS has developed external communications – such as research summaries and monthly newsletter and webinars – and internal communications – such as staff trainings. Visitors to the parks can also witness firsthand the visible impact of climate change .
Going forward, NPS should also conduct scientific studies focused on proving the existence of climate change in order to disconnect it from political debate. Then, they should push harder for regulations that mitigate climate change and for funding to respond to climate change. Additionally, NPS should identify opportunities to increase revenue through either additional services or partnerships in order to have more resources to address climate change issues.
Looking to the future, should the National Parks Service focus resources on mitigating climate change or adapting to it?
 Climate Central, “‘It’s About Engaging the Next Generation’ A Q&A with National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis,” http://reports.climatecentral.org/nps/director/, accessed November 2017.
 Brady Dennis, “Climate change is going to drive a lot of change in the national parks,” The Washington Post, May 18, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/05/18/national-park-service-director-climate-change-among-the-biggest-challenges-ahead/?utm_term=.6e1d81e27080, accessed November 2017.
 NPS, “Climate Change in National Parks,” https://www.nps.gov/piro/learn/nature/upload/ClimateChangeInNationalParks.pdf, accessed November 2017.
 Nicholas Fisichelli, Gregor Schuurman, William Monahan, Pamela Ziesler, “Protected Area Tourism in a Changing Climate: Will Visitation at US National Parks Warm Up or Overheat?” Public Library of Science 10(6): e0128226, June 17, 2015, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0128226, accessed November 2017.
 Nicholas Fisichelli, William Monahan, “Climate Exposure of US National Parks in a New Era of Change” Public Library of Science 9(7): e101302, July 2, 2014, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0101302, accessed November 2017.
 NPS, “Revisting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks. A Report of the National Park System Advisory Board Science Committee,” https://www.nps.gov/calltoaction/PDF/LeopoldReport_2012.pdf, accessed November 2017.
 Ker Than, “How Climate Change Will Transform the National Parks’ Iconic Animals and Plants,” Smithsonian, August 8, 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-climate-change-transforming-national-parks-iconic-animals-and-plants-180960046/, accessed November 2017.
 Elspeth Dehnert, “Climate Change Threatens U.S. National Parks,” Scientific American, July 3, 2014, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-threatens-u-s-national-parks/, accessed November 2017.
 NPS, “Climate Change Response Program,” https://www.nps.gov/orgs/ccrp/index.htm, accessed November 2017.
 NPS, “Climate Change. Science,” https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/science.htm, accessed November 2017.
 NPS, “Climate Change. Adaptation,” https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/adaptation.htm, accessed November 2017.
 NPS, “Climate Change. Communication,” https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/communication.htm, accessed November 2017.