Grand Canyon National Park
Update Feb 2011: Environmental groups are celebrating an Obama Administration proposal to prevent uranium mining and preserve 1 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park.
No, the canyon isn't going anywhere ... but the landscape around it is threatened by uranium mining, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust -- and the U.S. Congress, for that matter.
In 2008, a Congressional committee made a controversial emergency declaration to ban new uranium mines around the park, something both nonprofit groups had urged in the face of a resurgence in interest in U.S. nuclear energy, and the uranium needed to fuel new power plants. In July, President Obama's Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, halted all reviews of pending mining permits in the region -- all 11,000 of them -- putting at least temporary protection in place.
What would 11,000 uranium mines mean for America's second-most visited national park? An increased chance of radioactive water spills for one, according to the Grand Canyon Trust. More visibly, "renewed uranium development threatens to degrade wildlife habitat and industrialize now-wild and iconic landscapes bordering the park," the group says.
The groups are challenging the government's approval of new mining claims. Still, it may be wise to make your trip now, particularly if you're visiting the North Rim.
Joshua Tree National Park
This is one park that might need a new name before too long. Joshua Tree National Park is losing its Joshua trees. Michael Cipra, a program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, laid out the bad news for Congress in testimony delivered the prognosis in April: The iconic trees will have substantially died back, and will have stopped reproducing within 100 years.
"As a result of climate change, there may no longer be Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park," Cipra testified. "This plant is not just an iconic image on a postcard it is critical to the health of this desert ecosystem. Ecologists refer to the Joshua tree as a 'foundation species' a plant that serves as living habitat for a whole range of animals, providing food and shelter critical to the survival of everything from great horned owls, which nest in the tree tops, to night lizards, North Americas smallest lizards, which give live birth to their young beneath decaying bark of the Joshua tree."
There you have it. If you like great horned owls, night lizards ... or Joshua trees, visit Joshua Tree National Park sooner than later.
Biscayne National Park
The National Park Service gets rhapsodic when it describes Biscayne National Park: "Within sight of downtown Miami, yet worlds away, Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs."
So you can imagine how crest-fallen visitors to this unique coral reef beside a major city would feel if last piece of that enchanting equations -- the "fish-bejeweled coral reefs" -- disappeared.
Coral reefs around the world are endangered by a variety of threats -- pollution runoff from nearby land, increasingly warm water, bleaching, overfishing, ocean acidification and even over-use by tourists. In Bixkayne National Park (and Virgin Island National Park) coral reefs are most threatened by increased water temperatures and the spread of disease. In about 20 years, coral cover in the park decreased by half, and the diversity of species living there declined as much as 29%.
Snorklers take note. Make your visit to Biscayne National Park now.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains are indeed smoky... but, smoggy too.
The Smokies are the most visited of the national parks, and in one sense they are being loved to death.
Smog comes primarily from two sources: smokestacks and tailpipes. Both are a problem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as the pollution from distant coal-fired power plants and factories, and the nearby pollution from millions of vehicles enjoying the park's scenic drives mingle with heat and sunlight to form smog.
The Great Smoky Mountains take their name from a fine blue mist visible rising from valleys. Don't mistake it for the obscuring white haze of smog, which is more common today. It's a goal of federal officials to decrease smog overall, and particularly where it obscures the view from national parks. Still, with increasing car traffic, vehicles have been contributing more, not less, to the problem. Why not make your visit now, just in case?
Lake Clark National Park
One of the least-visited national parks, in remote Alaska, Lake Clark is nonetheless staggeringly beautiful. And, unfortunately, threatened.
A new gold rush has inspired 1,000 square miles' worth of gold claims since 2003 -- directly adjacent to Lake Clark National Park, and near to Katmai National Park, in the salmon-rich headwaters of Bristol Bay, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. Late in 2008, the Bush Administration opened another 1 million acres of nearby federal lands to mining.
Most threatening is the Pebble Mine, which is even being opposed by many jewelry makers because it poses such an environmental threat.
"If built, Pebble Mine could become the largest open-pit mine in North America (only 14 miles from Lake Clark national park)," according to the National Parks Conservation Association. "It could also become a catalyst for industrialization of 1,000 square miles of mining claims staked since 2003 along the west side of the park, all of which are precariously located in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, one of the last remaining intact wild sockeye salmon fisheries on Earth."
If you've craved an experience in untouched Arctic nature, on the Pacific ring of fire, or a once-in-a-lifetime salmon fishing trip, then visit soon.
Glacier National Park
What would the Grand Canyon be without a canyon? Something like Glacier National Park would be without its glaciers. But by 2030, that's exactly the landscape that might greet visitors, as the climate warms.
Already, some of the most famous glaciers in the Montana park have shrunk by more than half, and only 17% of the glaciers found there in 1850 remain today (26 of 150). While the valleys below have warmed about 2 degrees in the last century, the peaks of Glacier National Park have warmed about 2 degrees every year for 15 years.
Glaciers are things of beauty and awe: the imprint of time and the Earth's physical processes represented in massive hulk of ice on the landscape. The loss of glaciers -- not just in U.S. national parks, but worldwide is one of the most visual signs of global warming. Sure, the melting of a glacier is still slow in human years, but the change in Glacier National Park is real and any child born today should see the park before he or she hits 20 -- because the glaciers might well be gone by then.
Grand Teton National Park
If you like salmon fishing in the presence of jaw-dropping scenery, then you might want to visit Grand Teton National Park now.
From its origins in Yellowstone National Park (one of the most visited national parks), the 1,040-mile Snake River once produced half the wild chinook salmon found in the mighty Columbia River, the largest U.S. river to discharge into the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the upper Snake River has the most extensive freshwater salmon habitat in the lower 48 states. So why does the federal government rate salmon fishing in the designated "Scenic and Wild" stretch of the river as only fair?
In a word: Dams.
The four dams on the lower Snake River have so choked the once-prolific salmon runs that the group American Rivers named it one of the most endangered rivers in America. This spring, a federal judge said federal officials had to at least consider breaching dams to save salmon, and the Obama Administration is considering options. (The Snake River is not at all unique, by the way: Dams With a new plan, the Obama Administration has put a roadblock against uranium mining on 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon one success in the ongoing efforts to preserve these endangered national parks. many of them useless With a new plan, the Obama Administration has put a roadblock against uranium mining on 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon one success in the ongoing efforts to preserve these endangered national parks. in rivers and streams across the U.S. block the passage of fish, prevent the flow of nutrients and otherwise choke off native freshwater life.)
If the dams aren't breached, or another solution found, some experts worry that the remaining salmon runs will go extinct, as several have already. The threat of global warming, which is makes water warmer and less hospitable to salmon, trout and many other sensitive freshwater species, only adds urgency to the issue. It could be that a generation from now, 2 million steelhead and chinook salmon will spawn in the Snake River, as they once did With a new plan, the Obama Administration has put a roadblock against uranium mining on 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon one success in the ongoing efforts to preserve these endangered national parks. but it's probably a good idea to do your fishing now, just in case.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. It's teeming with wildlife, from the abundant and ferocious (alligators and crocodiles) to the scarce and ferocious (the panther), and every creature on down the food chain necessary to support such predators. Paddling a canoe through the Everglades -- a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance, "significant to all people of the world" -- is a rare experience.
Rare indeed. The Everglades face a Goldilocks-type question: Will there be too little water, too much ... or just the right amount?
For more than a century, the dominant trend for the Everglades has been toward less water, as agriculture and suburban sprawl have eaten into the swamp, and channels and irrigation systems have drained and diverted the natural water flow out of its source waters in Lake Okeechobee. With the water has gone 90% of some populations of wading birds. In that, the story of the Everglades is emblematic of the nation's wetlands as a whole: Less than half of all U.S. wetlands present in pre-colonial times remain, and the result has been loss of habitat for wildlife, particularly birds; increased flood risk; increased susceptibility to drought; and reduced water quality.
For the last couple decades in the Everglades, there's been a slowing of that trend, as preservation and restoration of the natural water flow has become a stated priority, backed by a 35-year plan and billions of dollars in planned spending. But global warming could cause sea-level rise to swamp the swamp; the highest point in Everglades National Park is just eight feet above sea level, and the latest projections suggest there will be more than enough new sea water to cover that land in the next 100 years or so -- right around the time the federal water restoration plan, if successful, would be showing signs of success.
Better not put off that once-in-a-lifetime trip to this one-of-a-kind destination.