Death Valley National Park
About the Park
Climate change presents significant risks and challenges to the National Park Service and specifically to Death Valley National Park. Scientists cannot predict with certainty the general severity of climate change nor its impacts. Average global temperatures on the Earth’s surface have increased about 1.1°F since the late 19th century, and the 10 warmest years of the 20th century all occurred in the last 15 years.
Many of the plants and animals that live in Death Valley are living on the edge of survival under current conditions. An increase in temperature or a change in precipitation patterns, even slightly, has the potential to push some of these plants and animals into greater isolation, threatened status, or even to extinction. The endangered Devils Hole pupfish currently spawn their young at the limit of optimal water temperature, and elevated water temperatures could be enough to prevent successful spawning. In a small population of animals whose life span is about one year, very subtle changes could rapidly devastate that population.
Changes in precipitation patterns could lead to more frequent and/or more violent storm events. This increase in seasonal rains would benefit opportunistic invasive species of grasses and annuals that could sprout and spread quickly. These plants will add an unnatural fuel source for wild fires to what should be a sparsely populated landscape, thus leading to more devastating wildland fires during summer thunderstorm events. Native desert plants do not recover well after fires, so large burn areas would then become havens for even more exotic plant species, which, in turn, would impact native animal species dependent on native plants, a prime example of which would be the desert tortoise.
This Action Plan identifies steps that Death Valley National Park can undertake to reduce GHG emissions to mitigate its impact on climate change. The plan presents the Park’s emission reduction goals, and associated reduction actions to achieve the Park’s goals. While the plan provides a framework needed to meet the Park’s emission reduction, it is not intended to provide detailed instructions on how to implement each of the proposed measures. The Park’s Environmental Management System will describe priorities and details to implement these actions.
GHG emissions result from the combustion of fossil fuels for transportation and energy (e.g., boilers, electricity generation), the decomposition of waste and other organic matter, and the volatilization or release of gases from various other sources (e.g., fertilizers and refrigerants). In 2008, GHG emissions within Death Valley, including visitor transport, totaled 7,371 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MTCO2E). For perspective, a typical single family home in the U.S. produces approximately 11 MTCO2 per year (U.S. EPA, Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculators – Calculations and References, Retrieved. Website: http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html). Thus, the combined emissions from park, concessioners, and visitor activities throughout the park are roughly equivalent to the emissions of 670 households each year.
Death Valley is the largest park in the Mojave network with more than three million acres of park land, and with so much land to cover, vehicular miles add up quickly. The GHGs produced from park vehicles, while the smallest sector of GHG emissions, do represent significant opportunities for reduction. When visitor transport is added, vehicular emissions becomes the Park’s overriding largest emission factor. Thus, Death Valley must strive to make better vehicle purchases for operations, but must make particularly strong educational and outreach programs and work with potential travel providers in order to reduce the number of traveler miles driven and increase the efficiency of every visitor mile driven.
The graph below, taken from our Action Plan, shows our baseline emissions in 2008 broken down into sectors, including visitor travel.
Death Valley National Park intends to reduce park GHG emissions by no less than 25%.
To read more about what we are doing at Death Valley National Park about climate change, check out our Action Plan!