Mentor: Brigham Daniels, J. Reuben Clark Law School
National Parks and the Threats They Face: A World Survey
The earth is experiencing profound changes in its ecological health and rate of biodiversity loss across
the globe. For example, birds, insects, and mammals of Europe are migrating northwards and uphill in
response to observed climate changes1, and these changes are affecting the rate of European plant
development2. According to one author, “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals […] a
third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are
headed toward oblivion. The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North
Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.”3
The national parks and conservation areas of the world are quickly becoming the few remaining places
where plant and animal populations are allowed to exist relatively undisturbed. However, burdened by
global climate change, illegal hunting, and lack of funding, the proper management of national park
areas is becoming increasingly difficult. The success of these national parks contributes greatly to a
country’s tourism economy, and climate change will affect not only natural and cultural resources
within protected areas but also tourism and visitation patterns.4 As climate change continues to bring
unintended consequences to these ecologically and economically important places, the management
needs of each park will become more unique and complex.
The goal of our research was to survey national park employees from a wide geographic range to
understand how climate change and other human factors were affecting the health of the world’s
biodiversity. By interviewing and surveying different park rangers from the Equator to the Arctic
Circle, we hoped to begin a compilation of the most current information available from the researchers
on the front lines of these issues, and use these data to make more generalized conclusions about the
biggest problems affecting the world’s national parks.
The first phase of this project occurred in the form of qualitative interviews and discussions with park
rangers and managers on the ground. Beginning in May 2016, we traveled for six weeks, visiting
national parks and meeting with park employees throughout Eastern Africa, Central Europe, and
Scandinavia. Our observations and experiences were recorded and referenced to create a comprehensive
survey that could be delivered to national park employees throughout the United States. The second
phase of the project will be to gather survey results from the U.S. and use these responses to improve
our survey before reaching out to park and conservation employees in other regions of the world.
In eastern Africa, the greatest threat facing biodiversity is the illegal hunting, or poaching, of vulnerable
and threatened species within the parks, including the African elephant and Jackson’s hartebeest.
Indeed, due to severe poaching in past decades, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was created in an effort to
restore Uganda’s rhinocerus population. According to park rangers that we interviewed at Uganda’s
Murchison Falls National Park, a large amount of government funding went towards the security and
protection of these animals. They also informed us that, following an increased focus on poaching
prevention by their new park manager, they have observed a significant increase in elephant and giraffe
populations. For now, it seems that the benefits of the tourism that this biodiversity brings has created
incentive for government funding to be allocated for conservation measures. This governmental focus
on preservation was also visible in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where funds from gorilla tours
are being used to help the human communities surrounding the park, encouraging local citizens to
appreciate the park rather than desiring to clear more forest for agricultural and community use.
While these policy efforts have been encouraging for preservation of biodiversity in eastern Africa, a
ranger in Queen Elizabeth National Park showed concerns over the threat of climate change to wildlife
populations. As temperatures and drought conditions have increased, he has observed African lions
spending more time perched in trees under shade, which he believes affects their hunting habits. In the
coming years, much more research will be required to understand the effects of climate change on the
plant and animal populations of eastern Africa.
The threats facing the national parks of Central Europe and Scandinavia varied widely. The state of the
parks, and their intended use, reflected the political and social will of the people in differing countries.
For instance, the national parks in Poland and the Czech Republic, though beautiful and fairly well
preserved, appeared to have no clear visitors centers and very few marked hiking trails. The lack of
advertising for their national parks was in clear contrast to the parks in Switzerland and Sweden, where
great focus was given to the maintenance and advertising of their natural reserves. The Swiss National
Park was heavily protected, and Sweden’s focus on biodiversity conservation and their well-funded
national park system seemed to be a prominent part of Swedish culture. A park manager in Sweden’s
Tyresta National Park demonstrated this by granting us a personalized tour of the park and explaining
Sweden’s efforts to have a robust conservation program. In Europe, as in any other part of the world,
the amount of funding given to conservation efforts is determining the country’s ability to properly
protect and manage its natural spaces. A significant amount of climate change research is being
conducted in Central Europe5 and Scandinavia6, creating the opportunity for policymakers to mitigate
the negative effects that a changing climate will have on their country’s biodiversity and natural
Based on our observations, it is clear that the level of funding allocated for national parks, along with a
country’s cultural and political values, determines how well these natural preserves are protected and
managed worldwide. In Uganda we saw that increased funding has helped to mitigate poaching, and in
Sweden it has encouraged respect for the scientific and cultural value of the country’s biodiversity. As
funding and motivation for climate change research is increasing worldwide, we expect a large influx of
information regarding the effects of climate change on the world’s national parks, and
recommendations for mitigating those effects which prove harmful to the rich biodiversity in each
region. Further, we believe that the results from our comprehensive survey, compounded with these
preliminary interviews and observations, will yield a greater understanding of the greatest threats facing
the national parks of each country and region.
1 Feehan, J., M. Harley, and J. van Minnen. 2009. Climate change in Europe. 1. Impact on terrestrial ecosystems and
biodiversity. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29, 3: 409-421.
2 Chmielewski, F.M., and T. Rotzer. 2001. Response of tree phenology to climate change across Europe. Agricultural and
Forest Meteorology 108, 2: 101-112.
3 Kolbert, E. 2014. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt. Print.
4 Fisichelli, N.A., G. Schuurman, W.B. Monahan, and P.S. Ziesler. 2015. Protected Area Tourism in a Changing
Climate: Will Visitation at US National Parks Warm Up or Overheat? PLOS One Collections Online.
5 Rannow, S. 2013. Climate Change Adapted Management in Protected Areas: Practical Experiences from Central and
Eastern Europe. Climate Change and Nature Conservation in Europe, Habit-Change. Online.
6 Regeringskansliet: Ministry of the Environment, Sweden. 2014. Sweden’s Sixth National Communication on Climate
Change. Kaigan, Stockholm. Online.