Joshua Tree National Park

About the Park

Joshua Tree’s nearly 800,000 acres were set aside to protect the unique assembly of natural resources brought together by the junction of three of California’s ecosystems, the Colorado Desert, the Mojave Desert and the Little San Bernardino Mountains. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and waterholes are few. Viewed in summer, this land may appear defeated and dead, but within this parched environment are intricate living systems waiting for the opportune moment to reproduce.

Climate change presents significant risks and challenges to the National Park Service and specifically to Joshua Tree National Park. Scientists cannot predict with certainty the general severity of climate change nor its impacts but at Joshua Tree National Park, increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will alter park ecosystems, changing vegetation communities, habitats available for species, and the experience of park visitors. Ecological models indicate that Joshua trees could be lost from the park in the future. Staff is working with researchers to determine the level of impacts to and to understand effects on the Park. Recent research topics include impacts to reptiles and plants.


Like other parts of California, Joshua Tree National Park experiences poor air quality and is threatened with power shortages and increasing costs for electricity. But unlike much of the rest of the state, Joshua Tree National Park began relying on alternative energy sources before the situation became a crisis and costs skyrocketed. The Park replaced fossil-fuel generators in the 1990s with stand-alone photovoltaic (PV) systems to harness the abundant solar energy available in the desert. The Park has continued to reduce its carbon footprint and our energy costs by installing grid-tied PV systems that produce clean electrical power. Joshua Tree National Park has become the “flagship” for renewable energy generation throughout federal land management agencies.

Joshua Tree National Park, as a member of the Pacific West Region, is involved in the first regional effort in the National Park Service (NPS) to become carbon neutral. The Region has developed a vision of having its park operations be carbon neutral and established a goal of having all of its parks become a member of the Climate Friendly Parks Program by 2010.

Emissions Profile

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 Joshua Tree National Park totaled 6,507 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E). This includes emissions from park and visitor activities, including vehicle use within the park. For perspective, a typical single family home in the U.S. produces approximately 12 MTCO2 per year (U.S. EPA, Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculators – Calculations and References, Retrieved; Website: Thus, the combined emissions from park operations and visitor activities within the park are roughly equivalent to the emissions from the energy use of 553 households each year.

The largest emission sector for Joshua Tree National Park is transportation, totaling 6,198 MTCO2E.  A large percentage of the transportation, 94 percent, is from private vehicle use. This private transportation alone accounts for 89 percent of the total park emissions. Joshua Tree National Park roads are oriented from west to south and from north to south. This is the route that a large percentage of visitors also travel – on a one-way route which includes, at the greatest length, 50 miles from the West Entrance to the southern Cottonwood Entrance.

Moreover, park staff is primarily based out of Twenty-nine Palms, near the North Entrance. Work in the park involves transporting personnel and/or equipment substantial distances throughout the park (e.g., trash/recycling, law enforcement, interpretation programs, campground services).

The graph below, taken from our Action Plan, shows our baseline emissions in 2008 broken down into sectors.



Joshua Tree National Park has committed to:

  • Reduce energy use GHG emissions to 50% below 2008 levels by 2016.
  • Reduce park operation transportation-related emissions to 20% below 2008 levels by 2016, and overall transportation emissions including visitor vehicle emissions to 5% below 2008 levels by 2016.
  • Reduce waste-related emissions to 10% below 2008 levels by 2016.
  • Continue to work with park staff, visitors, and the community to effectively reach out to a wide audience about climate change and about reducing resources use.

To read more about what we are doing at Joshua National Park about Climate Change, check out our Action Plan