Climate change threatens California’s beloved state parks. Here’s how we can save them | Opinion

Four years ago, over 97% of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County burned during the state’s worst wildfire season in recorded history. Last year, unprecedented winter storms caused an estimated $190 million in damages to coastal parks. And at Seacliff State Beach, also in Santa Cruz County, storms flooded the campground and destroyed the beach’s historic pier.

Climate change and the resulting severe wildfires, extreme storms and rising sea levels are increasingly threatening our beloved state parks. These places are an essential part of California’s historical and cultural identity, celebrated for their dramatic landscapes, remarkable wildlife and exciting outdoor adventures. They comprise almost one-quarter of California’s shoreline, protect over 150,000 acres of coastal redwoods and preserve a wide range of ecosystems.


To address this unprecedented threat, we need to create climate-resilient state parks that can prepare for, adapt to and recover from climate impacts. To do so, California State Parks needs adequate, sustained funding to address wildfires, sea level rise and other climate impacts; a diverse team of climate experts working across relevant state park divisions to build climate resilience into every aspect of park management; and additional resources for land acquisition, community outreach and education.

These investments will pay dividends for California. They will ensure the future of our beloved state parks and help the state reach its climate goals, from protecting biodiversity to ensuring access to nature and preparing for extreme heat.

We are urging California’s leaders to adopt seven short- and long-term recommendations for building climate-resilient state parks. Key examples of these recommendations include funding a cohesive strategy to prepare state parks for rising sea levels and extending funding to address wildfire and forest resilience in California’s state parks. Funding for current efforts to address this challenge is set to expire in fiscal year 2027-28; but it will take decades to restore healthy, wildfire-resilient landscapes.

We must also fund a robust acquisition program to expand existing state parks and create new state parks. New and expanded parks would help communities during extreme heat events and help ensure equitable access to nature for underserved communities.

Additionally, counting state parklands as part of statewide climate goals to protect 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030 will give the park system greater access to future investments in conservation and stewardship activities.

Taking these steps will help ensure that our state parks are climate-resilient and ready for a future with warmer temperatures and more extreme storms and wildfires. Doing so will also mean that California’s state parks can contribute significantly to the state’s efforts to address the climate crisis.

Look at the example of the iconic Western monarch butterfly: California State Parks is the largest single land manager of overwintering groves for this species. Monarchs return to our coast every year to spend the winter in these places. Together with nonprofit partners, California State Parks has developed plans to preserve and restore their habitat. State parks already help protect California’s natural resources and extraordinary biodiversity; new and expanded state parks would add to these efforts.

Our state parklands include some of our most beautiful and iconic lands. But these places are threatened by the climate crisis, and we need immediate and bold action to create a resilient park system that will endure for future generations. If our state leaders take steps now, we can both protect our state parks and prepare them for the state’s changing climate.

Rachel Norton is the executive director of the California State Parks Foundation.