The Western Joshua Tree in Morongo Basin

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The Western Joshua Tree in Morongo Basin

Date: 04/05/2021     State: CA     Issues: Climate, Wild Lands     Partner: Mojave Desert Land Trust Airport Origin : Palm Springs    


Fly decision makers and media over Joshua tree habitat to earn media and raise awareness of the need for permanent protection of the western Joshua tree as the state decides whether to list it for protections.

The western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) has recently been recognized as a full species, distinct from its close relative, the eastern Joshua tree, by geographic location, by genetics and form, and by obligate pollinators (two distinct moth species). The western Joshua tree meets the definition of a “threatened species” and is a candidate for listing under the California Endangered Species Act. Our conservation partners are working to secure protections for the tree through a permanent listing.

While development and habitat fragmentation contribute to the tree’s decline, climate change has been the primary driver for its candidacy for listing as a threatened species. Even in protected areas like Joshua Tree National Park, we are seeing the effects of climate change on the species. The forest in the national park is comprised primarily of adult trees with little recruitment of new trees dues to a warming, drier climate that makes it difficult for new trees to become established. Temperatures are projected to rise and increase drought conditions. Nitrogen deposition from air pollution can promote growth and expansion of invasive grasses that create a wildfire risk for Joshua trees, which are simply not adapted to wildfire.

Our partners are working to get the western Joshua tree listed under the California Endangered Species Act, which would add conservation protections and greater capacity to steer new development into already fragmented areas. These protections would allow for conservation acquisition in continuous undisturbed habitat areas that are at high risk for future development, and would provide opportunities for preservation beyond public lands to maintain linkages and habitat connectivity.

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