A Delicate Balance Is Threatened

Image of a glacier between rocky hills
Many glaciers in mountain parks are retreating or disappearing, while only a few are advancing.
© Parks Canada / Muir, R.D. / 09.93.03.07(293), 3/30/1984

Park ecosystems, as is the rest of Canada's natural environment, continue to adjust to life after glaciation. Climate has been changing naturally over the centuries. Populations of plants and animals evolve new communities in which the health and size of the populations of predators and prey are in constant tension. However, human-made climate change is occurring much faster than natural change, which threatens this dynamic, ecological tug-of-war. Some species will adjust to rapid climate change and will thrive. Others will decline in number and may disappear.

Climate change is also affecting the physical environment of our parks. Snow and ice conditions are changing. Many glaciers in mountain parks are retreating or disappearing, while only a few are advancing. The rise of sea level and the erosion of shorelines are affecting many of our coastal parks.

Climate change is an added stress for sensitive sites

Picture of a red-necked grebe on the water
Many species, such as migratory birds and large mammals, move across park boundaries.
© Parks Canada / Lynch, W. / 08.80.10.02(07), 3/30/1985

Parks Canada's State of Protected Heritage Areas 2001 Report recognizes climate change as an additional stress on Canadian parks that are already under pressure from loss and fragmentation of species' habitat, isolation from other natural areas, pollution, invasive species and increasing numbers of visitors. An altered climate will aggravate the stress on these vulnerable ecosystems.

Our national parks do not stand alone

Our national parks are integral parts of larger ecosystems. In fact, the park systems were established to recognize this. They were intended to represent and preserve the range of natural features typical of Canada.

Picture of a Dall sheep and his lamb on a mountain
As a result, high-altitude communities may disappear from some mountaintops where favourable conditions no longer exist - they have nowhere left to climb!
© Parks Canada / Lynch, W. / 11.110.10.01(26), 3/30/1989

Many species, such as migratory birds and large mammals, move across park boundaries. Parks Canada, therefore, works with other agencies and landowners to maintain species' populations and to protect the larger environment.

A serious concern for the park system in a changing climate is the phenomenon of "biome shift". Biomes are communities or assemblages of plants and animals such as grasslands, forests or tundra. As the climate warms, many Canadian biomes are expected to shift northward, up to hundreds of kilometres. In mountainous areas, the shift will be to higher altitudes. As a result, high-altitude communities may disappear from some mountaintops where favourable conditions no longer exist - they have nowhere left to climb!