Climate Change Threatens America’s Joshua Trees

Environmental changes could devastate their habitat in the coming years

Joshua tree
The habitats for Joshua trees in the United States are at risk due to climate change.
Matthewjs007/Creative Commons

It’s been a bad year for America’s Joshua trees. Earlier in 2019, the government shutdown led to an abundance of unmonitored activity in Joshua Tree National Park — including the destruction of several of the trees that give the park its name. Experts estimated that the damage incurred during that 35-day period would take hundreds of years to undo.

Now, the storied trees face another threat — and a more ominous one at that. The Guardian has just published devastating news with respect to the trees’ habitat and climate change. 

Only .02% of the tree’s current habitat in Joshua Tree national park would remain viable amid unmitigated climate change, according to research published in the journal Ecosphere. Even in a best-case scenario, with major efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, 80% of the trees’ habitat will be whittled away.

To reiterate: the loss of 80% of the land on which Joshua trees live is the optimistic option here.

A series of droughts in California has made the land inhospitable to the growth of new trees in recent years — one of the many reasons why the trees’ future is much less certain than it once was. Smog emerging from Los Angeles is another factor cited as a cause for alarm.

It’s news that has several scientists and park volunteers quoted in the article upset or flat-out angry about the situation. Rand Abbott, who volunteers at the park, is quoted as saying, “I don’t want this beautiful area to end up looking like something out of Mad Max.”

The Guardian’s article does offer some additional hope for the future of Joshua trees outside of California: those located in Arizona and Nevada may have a healthier future instead. But the potential loss of one of the most scenic spaces in the country to a preventable catastrophe should raise plenty of alarms across the nation.

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