In fact, many parks across the country are facing this public health issue

Yosemite Views by Motorcycle
Martim Guerra Silva

All nine national parks in California, including Yosemite and Joshua Tree, are dealing with “significant air pollution problems,” according to a recent report released by the National Parks Conservation Association.

The report found that 96 percent of the national parks in the U.S. are “plagued” with high levels of air pollution and 85 percent of national parks have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times.

“The poor air quality in our national parks is both disturbing and unacceptable,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the NPCA. “Nearly every single one of our more than 400 national parks is plagued by air pollution. If we don’t take immediate action to combat this, the results will be devastating and irreversible.”

The NPCA used multiple data sources including National Park Service information to evaluate the damage air pollution does to parks.

The National Park Service did not respond to multiple requests for comment from SFGATE.

The report listed four different categories of “harm” to the parks due to air pollution, and each park is given four different “concern” scores that correspond to each of the “harm” categories.

The four harm categories are “visibility” (hazy skies), “health” (unsafe air to breathe), “nature” (harm to species and habitat) and “climate” (extreme trends in temperature and precipitation due to climate change).

The three “concern” scores are “significant,” “moderate” and “little to no concern.”

According to the report, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks received scores of “significant” concern in all four harm categories, and every other National Park in California received a “significant” concern score in at least one of the four categories.

Last summer, Yosemite National Park experienced heavy air pollution due to smoke from the Ferguson Fire, although it is unclear whether the wildfire smoke was the main reason the park received scores of “significant” concern in the NPCA report.

Stephanie Kodish, the director of the Clean Air Program for the National Parks Conservation Association told SFGATE that the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed plan to open up 1.6 million new acres in California to drilling and develop fracking sites near Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks could further degrade air quality.

“When it comes to California parks, we have to think about the impact from oil, gas, and the BLM’s proposal for new fracking sites,” Kodish said. “I think about how much opportunity we have now with the current leadership of California, to take advantage of this moment in time given the data and awareness we have about the climate crisis.”

Kodish believes that the protection of national parks should be a bipartisan issue, and that the state of California should take action to reduce air pollution at the state’s nine national parks.

“National parks are a beacon for so many people and are bipartisan,” she said. “They should unify us, and this report must prompt action.”