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The Joshua Tree Is the First Plant Protected Due to Climate Change

For 2.5 million years, the Joshua tree has dotted the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. They’ve survived every possible form of drought or flood nature could throw at them. Climate change, however, is proving too much for these icons of the desert to handle.

Studies have shown that as temperatures in the Mojave have risen, the amount of new Joshua trees produced through natural reproduction has fallen; somehow the elevated temperature prevents some aspect of successful procreation. Estimates are that California may lose at least 80% of Joshua Trees in the coming decades, though if nothing significantly slows climate change’s advance, all of the trees are threatened.

In a bid to preserve as many of the trees as possible, the Center for Biological Diversity appealed to California’s Endangered Species Act to get the Joshua tree listed under the act’s protections. Last month, the California Department of Fish and Game approved the request, and agreed to declare the trees protected for a year while they conduct more research to determine if the trees deserve permanent endangered species status.

“This is a huge victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem,” Brendan Cummings, the conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity and the author of the petition, says in a statement. “If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we’re giving them, the first and most important thing we can do is protect their habitat. This decision will do that across most of their range.”

You can listen to an NPR interview with Cummings about the designation, and what the protection means, here.

Photo: Daniel Schwartz

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