Climate Friendly National Parks


National parks across the country, including California’s desert national parks like the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and Death Valley National Park have begun developing action plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of the National Park Service Climate Friendly Parks Program. The Climate Friendly Parks Program helps individual parks reduce their climate pollution, offers special public education programs about how global warming is already affecting our parks, and helps inspire visitors to embrace climate friendly solutions like using clean energy, reducing waste, and making smart transportation choices.

California’s desert parks are some of the largest national park sites in the lower forty-eight states and attract millions of visitors each year.  This leads to a unique set of problems in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, Mojave National Preserve, located in eastern California, was created by the 1994 California Desert Protection Act.

The 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve has singing sand dunes, spectacular rock formations, pristine night skies and a diverse array of plant and animal life. It’s made substantial investments in clean, renewable solar energy, energy efficiency programs and implemented aggressive recycling programs. The problem is that biologists, geologists, archaeologists and maintenance staff have to drive vast distances, sometimes hundreds of miles in a single day, to protect plants, animals, archaeological and geological resources.  That not only translates to a great deal of fossil fuel being consumed, but also to greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, the park’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from mobile sources.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Mojave National Preserve’s park headquarters is located in the gateway community of Barstow, more than 100 miles from the park’s Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center.  Resource staff that need to traverse the park’s rock-studded dirt roads have no choice at the present time except to drive a SUV with low fuel economy from park headquarters in Barstow to the location of their field work.

The park is looking at multiple solutions to this problem, including implementing a flexible

work schedule, having park resource staff stay overnight in the field for multiple days and developing a staging area at Cima, a location in the center of the park.  The staging area would allow park staff to drive from Barstow in clean hybrid vehicles and then refuel, or switch to a four wheel drive vehicle if they needed to monitor plants, animals or archaeological resources in the field.

Yet another plausible solution, albeit far into the future, is the revitalization of an old railroad service into the Kelso Depot.  Park staff could ride the train into the Preserve from desert cities and use vehicles staged at the Depot.  Such a railroad would benefit the park by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the amount of fuel it uses, but could also provide an opportunity for tourists eager to learn about the ecology and history of the Mojave Preserve.  Families could ride the train through the Mojave National Preserve and listen to park rangers describe the park’s many geological features and weave tales about the fascinating mining and ranching history of this unique area.

In the coming years, the work that Mojave National Preserve is doing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through the Climate Friendly Parks Program will benefit the park and countless desert enthusiasts.  Visitors to the Preserve will not only experience a magnificent desert park, but also play a role in protecting it and creating a more sustainable future.

Images: Granite Mountains in Mojave National Preserve; map of Mojave National Preserve. Courtesy National Park Service.

Seth Shteir is senior program coordinator at the National Parks Conservation Association in Joshua Tree, California.

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