Defending the Desert: Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree | Death Valley | Mojave

Eagle Mountain Landfill

Southeast of Joshua Tree National Park, surrounded on three sides by the park's wilderness, NPCA is fighting plans to build the world's largest garbage dump in the Eagle Mountains. The Eagle Mountain Landfill, proposed by Kaiser Ventures, was sold to the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, pending the defeat of legal challenges mounted against the landfill by NPCA and other plaintiffs. The dump would operate for 117 years, receiving 708 million tons of garbage and an intake of up to 20,000 tons per day. The dump would fill numerous undisturbed canyons and lands that are home to desert tortoise, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and other sensitive desert wildlife and plant species. The dump would also cause air, light, and groundwater pollution in an area of the park which is currently relatively free from these maladies. In addition, the dump would increase the populations of coyotes and ravens to unnaturally high levels, which would reduce wildlife such as desert tortoise, reptiles, and songbirds and otherwise disrupt the fragile desert food chain.

Learn More: Read NPCA's Position Paper >>

In September 2005, a federal district court ruled in NPCA's favor by overturning a federal land exchange of 3,481 acres needed for development of the garbage dump, thus dealing the project a major setback. The court ruled that the project's environmental analysis was deficient and didn't consider adequate alternatives. In addition, the ruling stated that the BLM did not demonstrate that the land exchange served the public interest, and the valuations used for lands traded were too low and resulted in a giveaway of public resources. Landfill proponents have 60 days to appeal the decision. While NPCA will remain vigilant in using legal channels to kill this ill-conceived project, we are also asking Los Angeles County decision-makers to abandon their agreement to buy the dump site. NPCA recently published a position paper demonstrating that solutions to their waste management needs exist without hauling trash 200 miles to the desert and ruining a crown jewel national park. 

Air quality

Congress designated Joshua Tree National Park as a Class I area under the Clean Air Act, which affords it maximum protection by establishing as a national goal "the prevention of any future, and remedying of any existing, impairment of visibility… resulting from man-made pollution." Despite this designation, Joshua Tree's air quality is among the worst in the National Park System with park ozone levels consistently exceeding the EPA's human health standard. In fact, the ozone levels in Joshua Tree National Park were worse in 2002 than all but seven of the most polluted major metropolitan areas in the nation. This air pollution frequently endangers the health of park employees and visitors, degrades the park's scenic vistas, and deposits nitrogen compounds that benefit non-native plants which in turn fuel the spread of wildfires and disrupt the fragile desert ecosystem.

NPCA's Pacific Regional staff actively promotes sound legislation and regulation-both within California and at the national level-to clear the air for parks and people. In the desert region, NPCA leads the Joshua Tree Air Quality Working Group to give desert residents a voice in issues that affect the air they breathe. NPCA also supports statewide efforts, such as the California Clean Cars Campaign, which is working to reduce pollutant emissions from motor vehicles, which account for approximately 70% of California's air pollution and 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions.


According to its 2001 business plan, Joshua Tree National Park receives less than 70 percent of the funding needed to meet its resource protection and management, visitor enjoyment, facility maintenance, interpretation, and administrative needs. Despite hard work by its dedicated employees, the park is not able to fully meet its mission. Examples include the following:

  • While the air pollution in Joshua Tree is among the worst in National Park System, the park has insufficient staff and resources to adequately monitor air quality and assess its impact on park plants, wildlife, and visitors.
  • The park needs funds to address potential safety hazards posed to visitors and staff from abandoned mine sites, including over 140 mine shafts and 100 mine adits that are accessible, dangerous, and lack warning signs.
  • Lacking sufficient staff, the Park Service frequently is unable to respond to threats including illegal dumping and off-road vehicle travel; aggressive, and invasive plant and animal species that disrupt the fragile park ecosystem.
  • Historic buildings at Joshua Tree's Desert Queen Ranch-which tell the amazing homesteading story of the Keys family-require stabilization and restoration to prevent them from deteriorating into the desert.
  • Approximately half of park visitors have no opportunity to attend a park interpretive program. The Park Service is also often unable to meet the requests of local schools and struggles to engage the region's population on critical park issues.


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