Category Archives: Ask It

Wildlife Extinction and Endangerment

Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, human advancements have been catapulted to undeniable heights. Renewable energy, dams, bridges, sky rises, and housing created and now dot the skyline. But with the rise of these developments came continuing damage to multiple wildlife ecosystems, causing wildlife extinction and endangerment. Many areas that were previously home to various wildlife were manipulated, condensed, or in certain circumstances even completely eliminated in order to accommodate the needs of the human population.

By the turn of the 21st century, thousands of animals have gone extinct and even more entered the status of critically endangered as identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Poaching and requisitions for believed, though often unfounded, medicinal effects or even just for internal decoration and clothing have caused an alarming degradation of these animals’ numbers, with some even going completely extinct. Below are a few of these animals that experienced a problematic decline.

Baiji Dolphin

baiji dolphin

A male baiji dolphin typically was around 7.5 feet long and 8.2 feet for females, with a record length of 8.1 feet. They had a bottle-nosed, slightly upturned beak and a bottle-shaped body.[Image: http://mnn.com/]

The baiji dolphin was native to the Yangtze River in China. It is currently declared extinct, with the last verified sighting reported way back in 2004. There was evidently a supposed sighting of a lone baiji back in 2007, but with no other sightings since and with no other known baiji in the area, it is said to not have any possible way of maintaining its population. Their extinction was due to massive pollution in the Yangtze River and the building of dams and land reclamation that illuminated their niche. The further industrialization of China has made the baiji a popular hunting target as its skin and eyes hold a high monetary value as well. Although hunting was not the most significant factor in the extinction of the baiji and it was instead caused by massive human industrial expansion, a lack of of knowledge and timely conservation ultimately led to the demise and extinction of the species.

Western Black Rhinoceros

western black rhino

A western black rhino weighed as much as 1.5 tons in its prime. It primarily resided in Africa and was a kind, social animal. [Image: http://i.imgur.com/]

The western black rhinoceros was native to Africa and was rich in population up until around the 20th century when hunting for their horns became more common. Their decline was such that their numbers deteriorated to just 10 within a century, and just a year after that sharp decline, only five were left before their complete demise in 2004. The major cause of the western black rhino’s extinction was poaching and hunting for their horns. Some cultures held the belief that their horns contained medicinal attributes, and with a lack of conservation efforts and the demand of the horn and skin from the rhinos in the black market, they were hunted extensively to extinction.

As of now, other rhinos are also facing a critical endangered status, and preservation efforts are currently underway to keep them from following in the tracks of the western black rhino. Unfortunately, preserving them is proving to be difficult due to a lack of sufficient conservation efforts in place. Hopefully with more awareness, these ancient creatures can be saved and left to peacefully roam in the lands where they have thrived for millions of years.

Tiger

tigers

Tigers are probably one of the most elegant creatures in the wild, its white, gold, and black stripes a staple of the animal. Part of the charismatic megafauna, it is commonly the face of conservation advocacies. [Image: http://spiritanimals.wikia.com/]

While tigers are generally prohibited from being hunted and are well protected by conservationists, they are still subject to poaching, their continuously dwindling numbers a testament to this. Like rhinos, tigers are also subject to being sold in the black market as medicine, ornaments, and aphrodisiacs. While conservation efforts are strict, there is still a large case of tiger poaching and selling them within the black market.

Sumatran Elephant

sumatran elephant

Sumatran Elephants are social, gentle mammals. They have an average length of five to nine feet and can grow up to 20 feet and weigh approximately five tons. [Image: http://www.berdiri.org/]

Another critically endangered species is the Sumatran elephant. The decline in their numbers is primarily caused by poaching for their ivory tusks as well as an immense loss of habitat due to agricultural efforts. Found in the Riau province in Sumatra, Indonesia, these elephants once roamed the island widely before poaching led to their sharp and continuous population regression; they lost 50 percent of their population in just 22 years due to poaching. In certain local places in Sumatra, they are now locally extinct where they once were widespread. A combination of these factors continues to threaten their existence even today.

These animals are only a few examples of those that were badly affected by the illegal poaching and industrialization efforts of mankind. It is important to be aware of the proper rules and regulations toward wildlife in order to continue the preservation methods currently in place. Head on over to our Rules & Regulations sections in our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to help you stay informed of the proper do’s and don’ts. With combined preservation efforts, we can still assist in keeping these beautiful creatures safe and sound.

How To Care For Wildlife in Winter

Winter is undeniably making its way toward us this season. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up its frigid pace, various wildlife are preparing themselves for the winter fright. By this time, many creatures have long started their winter survival methods, such as migration, hibernation, or camouflaging to more easily adapt to the harsh temperature drops. As part of such a great ecosystem, many of us may be tempted to help these animals survive the winter wilderness. However, it is important to be aware of the proper ways to care for these creatures if we come across one in need. Below are some tips for how to care for wildlife this winter.

1. Be Mindful with What You Feed Them

Many of us will want to provide some food to precious wildlife, and we can’t blame you! The winter freezes everything in sight, and food is especially scarce during this time. However, there are some animals that are better off not fed. Perhaps the best example of this are deer. During winter, deer undergo physiological changes to acclimate, and their diet becomes more protein-based. This means that the bacteria that was previously present in their gut during spring and summer is now replaced with bacteria best for digesting high protein-based nutrients in fall and winter.

Deer eating in winter

Deer eating in winter. [Image: https://c2.staticflickr.com/]

In fact, there have been multiple cases where deer have died due to a complication in the digestive tract when they were given food that was not appropriate to their current living situation. Deer may starve even when their stomachs are full of food due to bacteria incompatibility in their gut. Therefore it is most appropriate to be mindful of what we feed these creatures. The best route? Don’t feed them at all.

However, if you do choose to, here are some guidelines you must follow:

  • Stick to natural browse plants such as: woody plants (dogwood, honeysuckle, red cedar, oaks); winter forbs (sedges); winter crops (wheat, clover, rye grass); and winter fruits (coralberry, sumac seedheads).
  • DON’T FEED: hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, or cabbage/lettuce trimmings.
  • Protect feed from moisture.
  • Carefully select deer formulation in pellet form.

If you require more information on how to minimize impacts of deer-feeding during winter, Maine’s government offers a good article on the topic.

2. Leave Water Outside

Because freezing temperatures tend to leave ice instead of liquid, it is even more crucial to leave water outside for wildlife species. Birds, for instance, would benefit from water left outside for them to drink during winter. One can purchase a small heating rod that would prevent water from icing over—this equipment can easily be purchased in your local garden stores.

Alternatively you can invest in an artificial pond or birdbath and keep the water ice-free. It will most definitely be a welcome warmth for these friendly neighbors!

Bird in winter

Bird drinking water in winter. [Image: http://blog.wbu.com/]

3. Winter Garden Wilderness 

If you have a backyard, you can help provide a temporary solace by letting your backyard or garden, whichever is more applicable, run wild this winter. Let dead leaves, grass, and twigs pile up in a designated corner so wildlife can make a home out of this during the following winter months. Birds can also use the twigs for their nests!

compost garden

Garden compost. [Image: http://www.bobsmarket.com/]

4. Be Informed

While some wildlife is better off not fed, you can in fact provide food for some creatures. For instance, hanging feeders containing seed blends, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are great for birds! Hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds make for happy squirrels while cheese, boiled potatoes, and bread scraps during dusk are a great comfort for foxes. But quantity and mindfulness is key. Leaving too much can make them dependent and can cause a nuisance on you instead. Being ill-informed can prove fatal to their health.

squirrel and bird in hanging seed feeder

Bird and squirrel hanging on a seed feeder. [Image: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/]

Remember that while helping wildlife is great, it’s also a huge responsibility. Being informed and mindful makes you a more helpful neighbor for wildlife this winter!

Check your Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for more information on habitat and usual wildlife behavior, available in Google Play and the Apple Store.

Top 5 Therapy Animals

Animals have a lot of uses in the daily lives of many people around the world, from nutrition to domesticated pets, in addition to their own roles in their respective ecosystems. More recently, some animals have been utilized and recognized for the positive therapeutic impact they have on different demographics, including young patients with autism, cerebral palsy, severe physical disabilities, and elderly patients suffering from physical ailments plus depression and loneliness. Here are the top 5 therapy animals:

1. Horses

Przewalski horse at The Wilds in Ohio.

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Horses are especially recommended by therapists for people with disabilities because of the wide range of positive benefits from horseback riding. For instance, depending on the disability and personality of the patient, horseback riding may benefit the patient socially, or build core strength and  muscle memory. Therapists have noted the psychotherapeutic benefits of horseback riding among at-risk youth and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, making both groups of patients less aggressive and prone to suicidal thoughts.

2. Alpacas

English: Two young male Suri alpacas

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Alpacas are popular for their cute appearance, gentle, and sociable personalities. Those same qualities make them an asset in hospitals. In one Oregon children’s hospital, for instance, an alpaca (as well as the closely-related llama) have been effective in improving patients’ moods and health. However, the benefits of interacting with alpacas is not limited to children, but also includes patients in long-term and assisted-living communities, and physical rehabilitation centers.

3. Dogs

English: Golden Retriever dog (canis lupus fam...

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Dogs have long been used for medical purposes and in actual medical facilities. In some cases, retired guide dogs have stayed in the same facilities as child patients undergoing experimental therapies. Interacting with the therapy dogs, such as petting, walking, feeding, and grooming them, has been ineffective in lifting the spirits and speeding the recovery processes and motivations of patients.

4. Elephants

Elephant from Kruger Park, South Africa. Deuts...

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Though not used as commonly as dogs and horses in the United States for animal assisted therapy, elephants are nonetheless a popular choice in places such as Thailand, South Africa, and Jerusalem. Elephants have been used for young patients with cerebral palsy, people with autism, and more recently, as one aspect of drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Thailand. The fundamentally non-aggressive personalities and sheer exoticism of elephants tend to fascinate and motivate patients.

5. Rabbits

Rabbits DSC00372

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Rabbits are sometimes a realistic alternative to therapy dogs or cats simply because of their comparatively smaller size and fewer requisite responsibilities. Patients who have interacted with therapy rabbits have reportedly become more adept at building relationships and cooperating with others, and autistic child patients have improved their ability to understand physical limitations and interpret social cues.

Interested in having your own unique experience with wildlife in the great outdoors? Download our Pocket Ranger® apps to find the best places to experience nature.

5 Animals That Eat Their Young

For the majority of nature’s creatures, including humans, one of the most basic instincts is to protect your own offspring. But, that doesn’t mean nature doesn’t produce exceptions to the rule in this regard. In the case of some animals, they take what they give: life to their own young. Here’s our list of 5 Animals That Eat Their Young:

1. Hamsters

Hamster

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Hamsters are often considered cute, though they’re also rodents, in the same animal family as rats. Yet mother hamsters are also known for sometimes killing their own young, sometimes due to sheer stress or confusion. First-time mother hamsters may kill their own babies due to excessive stress about maternal responsibilities. In terms of confusion, human owners touching baby hamsters may leave their human scent on the babies, potentially confusing mothers about the identity of their offspring, and contributing to their death.

2. Hens

Hen in Coltura, Switzerland

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Hens are a major source of nutrition for many people around the world, in terms of their own meat and the eggs they produce. However, hens are also known to occasionally eat their own eggs, particularly in instances when the shells of their eggs are thin due to insufficient calcium. Diets low in protein for hens have also been attributed to hens feasting on their own eggs.

3. Sloth Bears

English: Young bear cub on mother. Melursus ur...

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Sloth bears are nocturnal bears indigenous to India. According to the National Geographic, sloth bears are the only bears that carry their young on their back. At the same time, mother sloth bears have been documented eating newborns they may have sensed were sickly to begin with. Other potential explanations include the mothers needing enough nutrition to nurse their other, healthier children, and thus choose to sacrifice the weakest of the bunch to feed other siblings.

4. Bullfrog

Bullfrog 001

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Bullfrogs, aquatic animals, are known to have extremely hearty appetites. Their appetites sometimes extend to not only their own species, but also their offspring, depending on the other food options available at the time. Besides sometimes eating its own young, bullfrogs also eat small rodents, snakes, bats, and birds.

5. Dolphins

Mother and baby dolphin in the lake near the S...

[Image: wikipedia.com]

Dolphins have been the subject of Disney movies and are known as some of the animal kingdom’s more sociable animals. The male dolphin especially has been seen attacking other female dolphins’  young in order to mate with them faster. Some scientists have attributed the female dolphin’s attack on their young to mating instincts, since once the chosen offspring is dead, the female dolphin is again ready to mate. Typically, female dolphins are able to calve only every 2 to 4 months.

Looking to see some of the animals that eat their young, or similarly out-of-the-ordinary animals in person? Download our Pocket Ranger® apps to find wildlife opportunities near you.

Make Your Own Trails with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition

Any of our Pocket Ranger® apps can help you find adventure, but you’ll need a rugged rig to get you there. Named Motor Trend’s 2015 Truck of the Year®, we nominate Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition as that perfect ride to get you from humble abode into the great outdoors.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Reach any trailhead with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition. This midsize pick-up comfortably handles the toughest trails thanks to its rugged durability, powerfully efficient 3.6L V6 engine, and Z71 Off-Road Package. No matter the weather, the trail-ready Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac® all-terrain tires keep you moving in all conditions. Best of all that Z71 Off-Road Package guarantees a smooth ride.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Got gear? Whether you’re a hiker, kayaker, hunter or angler, with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition there are storage options galore for all of your outdoor gear. GearOn™ moveable cargo tie-down rings and GearOn™ cargo divider in the bed give you many ways to secure your gear. Inside the cab, the large center console provides easy storage options for your gadgets and a nonskid space for charging devices. Armed with rear vision camera, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and OnStar Advisor, this truck pulls its weight when it comes to you and your family’s safety. Composed of high strength materials and reinforced safety cage, the Chevy Colorado Z71 series frame actually minimizes damage in the event of a collision.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Take the internet into the wilderness with you! Turn your Chevy Colorado Z71 into a hot spot with 4G LTE high-speed Wi-Fi connection powered by OnStar. Forgot to download a Pocket Ranger® app before you left the house? Download apps, surf the web, and stream video and music with the cab’s powerful connection that can serve up to seven devices. Four USB ports found in the cabin’s console add to ease of use. The truck’s cabin is also equipped with a top-notch Bose® sound system. Queue up the perfect soundtrack for those nights spent star-gazing from the truck bed.

Driving along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is a favorite during peak fall foliage season. [Image: www.motorhomeroadtrip.com]

Driving along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is a favorite during peak fall foliage season. [Image: www.motorhomeroadtrip.com]

Download the Pocket Ranger® Official Guide for New Hampshire State Parks and cruise the scenic Kancamagus Highway. While most will be stuck looking at the White Mountains from the hardtop of “the Kanc,” with your Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition, you can access numerous trailheads. We recommend hiking Mount Chocorua, a steep climb with commanding views of the Presidential Mountains. Don’t want to leave your Chevy behind? Put the Chevy Colorado Z71 to the test by summiting Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast!

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Image: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/alpine-lakes-wilderness]

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Image: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/alpine-lakes-wilderness]

Or get lost in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington. Less than 50 miles from Seattle, you can rely on your Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition to easily transition you from hip, urban sprawl to austere, alpine wilderness. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is home to the glacier-carved North Cascades and part of the legendary Pacific Crest Trail. Some of the best rock-climbing opportunities in the country can be found at Cashmere Crags. Or load up the kayak or canoe and spend the day on one of the 700 mountain lakes and ponds within the area. Download the Pocket Ranger® Official Guide for Washington State Parks for advanced GPS mapping capabilities that will help you navigate your adventure.

Leave No Trace

How do you keep the wilderness wild when millions of outdoor enthusiasts visit state and national parks each year? The Center for Outdoor Ethics created a solution to this problem with their national educational program, Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace program promotes and inspires good ethical practice when in the backcountry. By following these guidelines, you ensure a gratifying and lasting outdoor experience for all.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Like any trip, planning before you arrive at your destination is key.

  • Acquaint yourself with park regulations. You can easily access this information through any of our free Pocket Ranger® apps.
  • Be prepared for extreme weather and emergencies. Pack a first aid kit and a survival kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, whistle, multi-tool pocket knife, maps, lighter, fire starters, and iodine tablets.
  • Respect the physical limits of your hiking group by planning a trip that’s compatible with the group’s skill level.
Backpacker in sunlit field [Image: sojourningabroad.wordpress.com]

Image: sojourningabroad.wordpress.com

  • Careful meal planning and packaging is so important when out in the backcountry. Pack only the food you need to minimize waste while you’re out on the trail.
  • Try to visit the outdoors in small groups. This is especially applicable to backpacking trips. If you are a larger group heading into the wilderness, break off into smaller groups to reduce impact on the environment. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use on the trail.
  • Refrain from marking your trail with paint, cairns or flagging, and instead use a map, compass or your Pocket Ranger® app. In addition to a compass feature, the Pocket Ranger® apps offer users advanced GPS features that can even be used offline!

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Trampling down an area’s vegetation can result in some undesirable results, such as barren areas and soil erosion. Help preserve the environment by following these tips:

  • In wilderness areas of high use, stick to established trails and campsites. Established campsites can come in a few different forms, such as raised wooden platforms, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Walk single-file on trails and try to stick to the center of these trails. This prevents the trail from further eroding the surrounding landscape.
Hikers on a trail in the woods [Image: www.tripleblaze.com/blog/2013/07/14/how-to-follow-leave-no-trace-principles]

Image: www.tripleblaze.com/blog/2013/07/14/how-to-follow-leave-no-trace-principles

  • However, when camping and hiking through pristine or fragile environments, the opposite is true. Avoid making established trails or campsites by dispersing your impact on the environment. Do not camp or travel in places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Whether in high use or low use areas, always make sure to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. This protects the waterbody and riparian areas (the land near a waterbody) from damage and contamination.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

This principle could be the golden rule of the backcountry: Whatever you pack in, you must pack out! This includes all trash, leftover food, toilet paper (both used and unused), and hygiene products.

  • Before leaving a campsite or rest area, check around for any trash or spilled food you may have missed.
  • Solid human waste should be deposited in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep. These catholes must be at least 200 feet from water, campsite and trails. After use, cover and disguise catholes.
Always clean up after yourself when outdoors. [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]

Always clean up after yourself! [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]

  • Got dishes? Need a shower? To clean either yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lake, and use only small amounts of biodegradable soap. When finished cleaning or bathing, do not dump this dirty water back into the stream or lake! Doing so would contaminate the natural water source. Instead, strain and then scatter the water at least 200 feet (or 80 to 100 strides) from its source.

4. Leave What You Find

Look, but don’t touch! Preserve the past by leaving natural and historic structures and artifacts as they are. This ensures that other visitors to the area will have the same sense of discovery.

  • Leave rocks, plants, feathers and other natural objects just as you find them.
  • Don’t transport non-native species with you! Non-native species frequently become invasive. These invasive species can critically damage the ecosystem.
  • A good campsite is found, not made. Do not dig trenches or build structures, such as lean-tos, tables or chairs.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

While many believe that a roaring campfire is essential to a great camping trip, fire is not always permitted in backcountry area. Before lighting a fire, always check with park regulations.

  • If fires are allowed, use only established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires. Keep your campfire small and manageable.
  • Hold off on the huge logs! The Center for Outdoor Ethics recommends using sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Can you spot the two campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]

Can you spot the campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]

  • Burn all the wood and coals in your campfire to ash and put out the fire completely. Then scatter the cool ashes.
  • As for cooking outdoors, use a lightweight camp stove. A lightweight camp stove (rather than a bulky camp stove) will also be a blessing for your back!

6. Respect Wildlife

It’s certainly exhilarating to come across wildlife when outdoors. For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, follow these guidelines for wildlife sightings:

  • Always observe wildlife from a distance. Never approach or follow wildlife.
  • Never feed wildlife! Feeding wildlife can make wild animals dependent on humans, creating opportunities for potentially dangerous encounters.
Black bear takes over picnic at campsite [Image: http://forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]

Don’t let your favorite breakfast cereal become theirs. [Image: forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]

  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing food rations and securely.
  • If you bring pets with you, make sure you have control of them at all times. In many places, leashes are required.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

While you may head into the backcountry to be alone in the great outdoors, chances are you may come across a few other outdoor enthusiasts.

  • Respect other visitors to the area. Be courteous and yield to other hikers on the trail.
  • Take breaks and camp away from the trails and other visitors. Avoid making loud noises or speaking in loud voices when in the backcountry. Keeping your voice low not only helps others enjoy their time in the wilderness, but also increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
  • If you encounter pack stock in the backcountry, step to the downhill side of the trail.

Any adventure in the outdoors is going to require some quality gear. By taking the Pocket Ranger® State Park Visitor Survey you could win a $350 gift certificate to Backcountry.com!

Climate Change in National Parks

It’s no secret that climate change is taking a toll on our wildlife and their habitats. Some of the reported effects include declining bird population, oceans warming, droughts, and many more. Often climate change is hard to comphend if you don’t see it for yourself or if you don’t understand the magnitude. These damaging effects are a result of global warming, due to rising levels of greenhouse gases—often attributed to human impact. As hikers, naturalists or just people who love the outdoors these issues are closely hovering above us. Nature is our sustenance and these public lands are meant to last for future generations. By noticing the effects of climate change, it influences people to make conscious decisions that help keep our parks healthy. Ideally, as one who loves nature, we should follow the leave no trace principle, spread awareness, and protect these rare places. Below are some national parks currently experiencing shifts in their ecological and environmental patterns.

Joshua Tree National Park

A desert tortoise looking for shade.

A desert tortoise looking for shade. Image: www.gannett-cdn.com/

Can you imagine Joshua Tree National Park drier than it already is? The state-wide drought happening in California is causing the park’s water levels to drop dramatically, and officials are worried about wildfires in those conditions. Wildfires can easily spread in extremely dry areas and destroy wildlife and plants. Scientist say, the average temperatures in the park are increasing, and Joshua trees are drying out in some parts. The young trees normally seen have largely disappear in some areas, and the left over mature trees are gradually dying out. If global temperatures continue to rise as predicted, Joshua trees could eventually vanish from a range of 90 percent by the end of the century. Other types of trees and shrubs are being effected at lower elevations such as California junipers and pinyon pines. Lizards and insects are also feeling the impact; some are disappearing in areas where they were abundant, and the population of birds is shifting to higher elevations as the climate grows hotter and drier. Park researchers have found a good amount of dead desert tortoises during the drought.

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountain' s Cades Cove [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson]

Great Smoky Mountain’ s Cades Cove [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson]

The Great Smoky Mountains has one of the richest ecosystems in the world. It’s home to boreal forests as well as the largest block of virgin red spruce on Earth. According to a National Park Conservation Association study, temperatures in the region have been on the rise since the 1970s, causing the ski season to shorten and become less predictable. Also with warming temperatures famous species like the Fraser fir trees, typical in high elevation could eventually disappear. These dire conditions could be detrimental for red squirrels, southern red-back voles, and northern flying squirrels. Climate change means acid rain and invasive species which could make it difficult for trees to flourish. Regional forests are already being wiped out. Trout on the southern edge will also feel the impact, as rivers and streams warm. Even a small increase of 2 or 3 degrees could wipe out about 37 percent of trout in the area. In 1988, a major drought led to high trout mortality and such low reproductive rates. The Southern Appalachian forest has been struggling for decades with the stress of acid rain, and there is evidence the mix of climate change and pollution can worsen the situation.

Denali National Park

Hidden Creek Glacier. Top 1916 and bottom 2004. [Image Credit: NPS]

Hidden Creek Glacier: 1916 (top) and 2004 (bottom). [Image Credit: NPS]

Glaciers in Denali National Park are thinning and retreating at a rapid rate, reducing the area of ice for wildlife and coastal communities. As the arctic tundra’s permafrost continues deplete, changes in vegetation will force wildlife to move further north in search of food, The Denali Repeat Photography Project, which started in 2005, shows the Denali is going through massive changes in vegetation, water bodies and glaciers. The project has over 200 photo pairs across the park, providing background info, and the scope of changing patterns over time. The photos reveal obvious changes to the park’s ecosystems, a result of a warming planet and related causes. Some photos document changes including the invasion of open wetland by woody vegetation, the spreading of vegetation in open floodplains and terraces, shrinking ponds, receding glaciers, and the abundance of spruce in treeless areas. Though changes to the landscape may appear to be part of the natural cycle, the study points to an overall shift. Park personnel are also continually measuring glacial retreat and using surveying techniques.

Everglades National Park

Florida Panther, only 30 to 50 individuals survive today. [zoocenter.files.wordpress.com]

Florida Panther, only 30 to 50 individuals survive today. [zoocenter.files.wordpress.com]

In recent years the Everglades has drawn much attention, as it continues to get drained and encroached. It’s half the size it was a century ago, and only a fifth of the Everglades ecosystem is under the national park protection. The Everglades is included in the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. It’s home to endangered plants and animals, including the manatee and panther. According to the LA Times, one culprit causing havoc for 60 years is the sugar industry. The sugar industry uses up water resources, allows fertilizer runoff and pollution from sugar cane, and other agricultural operations that further reduce water quality and alter the ecosystem. Population in southern Florida is growing and housing demands have increased, further adding stress on water supplies. This fragile wetland habitat is also under threat from fracking on nearby public lands. “It is becoming more clear that regulating fracking still risks accidental spills, water contamination, methane leaks, earthquakes and habitat destruction. The only way to negate these risks is to ban fracking entirely,” says the non-profit organization Food and Water Watch. It’s no surprise President Obama paid a visit on Earth Day to call for fresh water restoration, and to push back on encroaching saltwater from rising seas which is altering the ecosystems. According to a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, the Florida Keys and other parts of the state are among the nation’s most vulnerable areas for endangered wildlife.

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For those saying let’s leave it to government, not so fast. A Center for American Progress study shows that during the first 100 days of 2015, newly elected congress and senate members tried to implement an anti-environmental agenda by proposing regressive laws. Some of our representatives continue to vote for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, block action to reduce carbon pollution and are sending proposals to sell America’s public lands. When Earth Day comes around the environment is a top concern—but let’s not drop the case and forget there’s still work to be done. For more info about climate change effects in national parks, visit the National Park Conservation Association.

 

 

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