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Global warming threatens Joshua trees

April 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Scientists have been telling us about global warming and the polar ice caps for years. Now there's a new danger very close to home, at Joshua Tree National Park. The high-desert ecosystem is one of the most fragile environments on earth.Explorer John Freemont called it "the most repulsive plant in the vegetable kingdom." Others have called the Joshua tree a unique, if not whimsical, plant.

Whatever the case, it's a survivor. Living through the Ice Age, some live to be a thousand years old. However, in Joshua Tree National Park, the Joshua tree may have finally met its match: global warming.

The Gee family was visiting the park Friday when they were told what many environmentalists now say, that because of rising temperatures, between 50 and 100 years from now, Joshua trees here may cease to exist.

"That would be a loss, for our children, and their grandchildren, and the children after that," said Lori Gee.

It may be happening already. Wildfires have destroyed many Joshua trees. And with some saying temperatures are already on the rise, Joshua trees here just aren't growing back. There's a very narrow range in which Joshua trees can survive, and that temperature range starts around an elevation of 3,000 feet, but with global warming, if that temperature range were to rise to 4,000 to 6000 feet, Joshua Tree National Park just isn't high enough.

"The problem with Joshua Tree National Park is our highest peak tops out at 5,800 [feet], so as the climate does warm, if they need to move up elevation, they're going to run out of real estate in the park eventually," said park ranger Joe Zarki.

Zarki says Joshua Tree National Park is already on the edge. Because of the heat it's the southernmost point in the United States where Joshua trees can survive. And some say it's getting even warmer. What can be done about this?

"Anything we can do, both on a local level and on these broader levels," said Zarki. "To help arrest the growth of climate change and its effects is going to help the Joshua tree."

And keep the Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park, before they're all gone for good.


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