Climate Change in Joshua Tree

Color photo of deep cracks in mud from a lack of rain. NPS / Brad Sutton
Severe drought may cause species to shift their ranges to higher elevations.

NPS / Brad Sutton

The National Park Service recognizes that climate change is one of the most important challenges facing America’s national parks today. Its impacts can be seen far and wide, from the retreating mountain glaciers of Denali National Park and Preserve to the vanishing archeological treasures of Bandelier National Monument. At Joshua Tree National Park, climate change poses a threat to many cherished species, like the Joshua tree, desert tortoise, and desert bighorn sheep.

For additional information about climate change and national parks, please visit

A Warming Earth

The atmosphere acts like a blanket around the Earth; it traps some of the Earth’s heat and warms the Earth in the same way that a blanket traps some of your body heat and keeps you warm on a chilly night. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are gases in the atmosphere that absorb and release the Earth’s heat, creating this warming effect. Humans are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for electricity, transportation, and industrial activities. When the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, the atmosphere traps more heat and the Earth warms up in the same way that a thick blanket will keep you warmer than a thin blanket.

A Changing Desert

The deserts of Joshua Tree National Park have harsh and unforgiving climates, yet they are rich in biodiversity and home to many species. These species have adapted to survive tough conditions, and a changing climate can pose a threat to their livelihood. As the Earth continues to warm, scientists project that the Southwestern United States will become hotter and experience more frequent and harsher droughts and wildfires. These conditions will likely affect the populations and home ranges of many species at Joshua Tree.

Rainfall is a critical factor that determines the health and reproductive success of many desert species. Severe drought may cause species like the Joshua tree, desert tortoise, and desert bighorn sheep to shift their ranges to higher elevations that receive more rainfall. As the climate becomes warmer and drier, these species may shift to higher and higher elevations within the park.

There is still a lot to learn about how climate change will affect park resources, and park scientists are conducting research to learn more about which species will be most vulnerable to climate change, how those species will be affected, and what the park can do to preserve them.

One Small Thing

Climate change is an issue that impacts people, wildlife, and vegetation across the globe, but the good news is that there are simple actions we can all take to help! These actions will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and clean up our environment.

What We Do

Joshua Tree is a Climate Friendly Park, and we are reducing our carbon footprint by:
  • Driving hybrid and electric vehicles
  • Harnessing energy from solar panels for some of the park’s operations
  • Installing energy-efficient lighting and solar motion sensor lights
  • Installing high-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units
  • Establishing a “no idling” vehicle policy
  • Recycling and reducing park waste

What You Can Do

There are many simple actions you can take to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. These actions are good for your health, your wallet, and the environment!
  • Conserve energy in your home by reducing the amount of air conditioning you use in the summer and the amount of heat you use in the winter.
  • Line dry your clothes instead of using a clothes dryer – you’ll save energy and they’ll last longer!
  • Choose a clean commute. Whenever possible, take public transportation, carpool, bike, or walk to your destination.
  • First reduce, then reuse, and finally recycle! Reduce your consumption and reuse products whenever possible. Recycling a product is better than sending it to a landfill even though the recycling process can be carbon intensive.
  • Go vegetarian (or vegan!) or give up meat and/or dairy products at least one day a week.
  • Replace old appliances with Energy Star compliant appliances.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room and install energy-efficient light bulbs.

Become A Citizen Scientist

You can help Joshua Tree scientists study climate change when you visit the park! All you need to do is download the iNaturalist app and use it to record observations of the plants and animals you see. Park scientists are particularly interested in observations of mesquite, young Joshua trees, young single-leaf pinyon pines, and blooming wildflowers. The observations you make can help scientists better understand how climate change is affecting the range, reproduction, and phenology of park species.

You also can use resources like iNaturalist or Project Budburst to study climate change in your own backyard.

Last updated: June 25, 2018