America's four most polluted national parks are in California, study finds

Lila Seidman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

LOS ANGELES -- Some of California’s most treasured parks are threatened by blight caused by pollution and climate change, according to a pair of new reports.

The four national parks with the highest ozone levels are all in California, with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks topping the list of parks struggling with air that’s dangerous to breathe, according to a recent report by the National Parks Conservation Association, an independent advocacy group.

Meanwhile, severe wildfires, drought and sea-level rise are ravaging state parks, which encompass nearly a quarter of California’s coastline, according to a separate report by the California State Parks Foundation, another advocacy group.

Ulla Reeves, interim director for NPCA’s clean air program, called California’s performance in the Polluted Parks report “disappointing.”

Joshua Tree National Park ranked as the second most ozone-polluted park, followed by Mojave National Preserve and Yosemite National Park, respectively.

Death Valley National Park is sixth on the list, right below Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.


“It’s not a surprise that air pollution is a problem in California. I think people know this,” Reeves said of her home state. “But we see that the sequoias and the Joshua trees and all of these places are really having an outsized experience of air pollution and climate threats.”

Behemoth sequoias and jagged Joshua trees are among millions of trees across the state succumbing to worsening wildfires, severe drought, extreme heat, disease and other stressors that have been intensified by global warming.

California has numerous sources of pollution that bleed into wilderness areas, since greenhouse gases don’t respect the boundaries of parks. Those sources include car-dependent population centers like Los Angeles; agricultural and industrial operations in the San Joaquin Valley; trucking and warehouse facilities in the Inland Empire; and the ever-buzzing ports complex in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The report evaluated nearly 400 parks via three main air quality categories — unhealthy air, harm to nature and hazy skies. The report also examined four primary climate change threats affecting parks — wildfire, drought, sea level rise and invasive species.


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