Climate Change and America’s Deadly National Parks
Posted on Sep 19, 2011
After learning that tourist deaths in Yosemite National Park increased this season compared with a typical year, Mother Jones reporter Kiera Butler asks whether the events that are rearranging the Earth’s climate might be the culprit.
Scientists are unwilling to label climate change as the direct cause of the lives lost by environmental alterations, such as faster-moving, higher-volume river water. But they are paying attention to the connection between rising temperatures and hazardous conditions. A 2006 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that in wilderness areas in the American West, unusually high temperatures led to heat waves, insect infestations, increased storms and flooding. Elsewhere this year, at Virginia’s Colonial National Historical Park, rising sea levels forced officials to move a lighthouse building twice. —ARK
Earlier this summer, a few friends and I went on a backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park. We had been told that the waterfalls were especially spectacular this year, on account of the spring melt of an unusually large snowpack. We were unprepared for just how impressive the rushing water would be. On our first day, we came to a bridge over the formidable Wapama Falls. White water poured over the railings, making the floor slick and dousing us as we scampered across. About a week after we got home, two hikers had died crossing the same bridge.
That was just the beginning of a very deadly summer in Yosemite. So far this season, 18 people have died in the park, way up from the 12 or so who die in a typical year. Thinking about the tragedies got me wondering: Could climate change be playing a role in making outdoor recreation more dangerous? And if it’s not now, then might it in the future?
Flickr / Koshyk
Eighteen people have died this year at Yosemite National Park.