Natural Resource Condition Assessments for Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program provides framework, funding, and publishing support to parks to aid in the synthesis and documentation of natural resource conditions. Condition assessment reports are a tool to describe selected park resources, and record a snapshot of their current condition, identify trends, and identify potential or current threats and stressors. Understanding the condition and trend of natural resources is key for parks and NPS planners to appropriately prioritize and allocate stewardship resources.

A trail of footprints on a sandy beach by a blue lake and rocky hills in the background.
Fisherman’s trail at Katherine Landing. Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

NPS Photo.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established in 1964 as the nation’s first National Recreation Area. The park is located within Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona, with Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument adjacent to the east. The park contains vast backcountry and wilderness lands, including nine designated wilderness areas that cover more than 185,000 acres and several other proposed, eligible, or potential wilderness lands that encompass an additional 373,000 acres. These lands serve to preserve ecological resources and processes and provide exemplary opportunities for primitive recreation and desert solitude.

Traditional NRCA Report: 2019

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Lake Mead National Recreation Area was written to provide a summary of the limnological and riparian resources at Lakes Mead and Mojave. The assessment for this park was published in 2019 and was a collaborative effort between park staff and the University of Nevada Reno. The assessment team chose key resources to be were evaluated, which incorporate ecological structure, composition, and function of ecological systems at a variety of scales, including:

- Lake and riverine ecosystem health

- Biotic condition

- Ecological processes

- Recreation sustainability

- Stressors and disturbance regimes

The assessment of Lake Mead National Recreation Area limnological and riparian resources is important for management planning into the future. This snapshot-in-time evaluation resulted in nine indicators in good condition, seven with a condition of moderate concern, two indicators with a condition of significant concern, and one indicator with unknown condition. Three stressors were also identified (development and urbanization, climate change, and human use) and discussed, but were not given a condition status. Though there is much data on the hydrologic properties of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, there are many unknowns regarding the entire hydrologic system surrounding lakes Mead and Mojave.

Management of Hoover dam, the Colorado River Basin, and conditions of the Muddy and Virgin Rivers and Overton Arm could all have profound effects on the water quality and quantity of the park. Safeguarding the water supply for the 25 million-plus people who depend upon the Lower Colorado River is a long-term challenge that will require the commitment, collaboration, and contributions of local, state, and federal governments through a comprehensive management program.

Traditional NRCA Report (Mojave Region): 2019

The Mojave Desert Network includes eight national park units—totaling over eight million acres—within the Mojave and Great Basin deserts of Nevada, Arizona, and California. This is a land of extremes and stunning diversity: from Death Valley National Park— the hottest, driest, and lowest national park— to the sprawling waters of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It is a land of Joshua trees, unlikely fish, fossil beds, dark skies, and rich American history. A Natural Resources Condition Assessment (NRCA) for six of the eight parks contained in the Network—Death Valley National Park, Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Mojave National Preserve—was completed and published in 2019.

The report was intended to provide scientific information on park resources that was requested by park managers and would be applicable to their planning and decision-making. Region-level and park-unit level objectives for the NRCA, and associated priorities for assessment, were identified primarily by managers from these six parks. Assessments within each of the parks were then conducted through a partnership of federal, university, and non-profit entities. The assessment emphasized the following resource topics and stressors:

- climate change

- water availability for native wildlife

- land use

- feral burros

- air quality

- bats

- the distribution and dynamics of non-native plants

- mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Grand Canyon–Parashant

- habitat quality for Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

- connectivity and adaptive capacity of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)

- fire

While resource conditions varied across the parks and resources, the ability to assess the condition of many high-priority resources was constrained by data availability and by the lack of explicit management targets. The assessment suggested that future collection or updating of publicly available data and metadata from within the Mojave Desert Network parks on roads; air quality; distributions and abundances of non-native invasive plants across time and environmental gradients; and the distributions, movements, and vital rates of high-priority species would be especially informative.

For other reports and natural resource datasets visit the NPS Data Store.

Source: Data Store Collection 7765 (results presented are a subset). To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Last updated: August 16, 2022


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