If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably heard about the increase of wildfires across the western United States and all the damage that has been caused. What you might not have heard is the effect the fires have had on an iconic plant called the Joshua Tree.
Any U2 fans out there? If so, you’ve heard of this plant which was used to name the music band’s most famous album.
Technically the Joshua tree is not a tree but a species of desert succulents. These plants are very distinguishable and hold a special place in many people’s hearts because they are native only to the south-western US.
Unfortunately, the Joshua Trees’ existence is being severely threatened. A 2019 Ecosphere journal study reported that just 0.02% of the species would survive if the current carbon emissions levels remained the same. With the increase in raging wildfires, the challenges keep adding up for this poor species.
The Damage From the Dome Fire
The Cima Dome is located in a preserve in San Bernardino County, California. It once contained the densest Joshua tree forest in the world but that changed in August 2020 when a lightning storm started what is now known as the Dome fire. This wildfire created extreme fire conditions and gusty winds along with very hot and dry conditions, making it difficult for the fire to be contained.
The Dome fire caused terrible damage to the Joshua tree population, burning up 43,000 acres of Cima Dome along with 1.3 million Joshua trees.
There Are Always People Who Care
Is it hopeless for the Joshua tree species? No, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s been a year and a half since the Dome fire and thankfully there are people who are refusing to let the Joshua tree die-off. Volunteers have been showing up to work alongside the National Park Service, which manages the preserve. Together they have been working hard to replant Joshua trees.
The lifespan of Joshua trees is about 150 years and if things work out, the saplings that are being planted will fill the preserve for a very long time.
Other Threats to the Joshua Tree
As we said earlier, wildfires aren’t the only danger to the Joshua tree species. Invasive grasses, poor migration patterns, carbon emissions, and the climate crisis all threaten the continued existence of the plant.
Let’s not forget development, as well. Humans have cleared out Joshua trees to build anything from solar farms to new neighborhoods.
The Future of the Joshua Tree
There are two different species of Joshua trees — western and eastern.
The eastern trees are for the most part located on federal land and are protected. About 40% of the western species is located on private land, which makes them vulnerable to developers.
In September of 2020, a petition was accepted by the California fish and game commission to offer endangered protections for the trees, which ends in May of 2022. These protections make it illegal to damage or remove Joshua trees without special permits. This was a major win because it’s the first time a plant has been given protection as a result of a climate-crisis threat.
There is currently a study being done to determine the plants’ long-term viability. When the commission receives the results, it will determine if the plant will get a more permanent solution by adding the species to the California Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected by April of this year.
At Karmagawa and SaveTheReef we are so happy that there are people fighting for this iconic plant! Unfortunately, it takes a lot of effort to make changes that matter and these people are doing great work that seems to be working. We could easily do nothing and let the threats erase this species from our planet — but then our world would be less beautiful.
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What do you think about the challenges the Joshua tree is facing? What can be done to make it easier to protect our beautiful animals and plants from disappearing? Leave a comment below.
(Cover Image: AndrePagaPhoto/Shutterstock)