If There Were No Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park, What Would We Call It?


Our National Parks are a precious sanctuary from modern life. Places where you can view an infinite number of stars, or enjoy a hike that is completely silent – save for the calls of birds and the rustling of grasses. Places where you might see wildlife like coyotes and bears, or interesting flora like the incredibly strange Joshua Tree. Visiting wilderness areas and spending a few days away from our internet connections can remind us of our connection to nature and the universe.

I recently spent some time in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Being there reminded me how precious our parks are. But they are also fragile ecosystems under threat from global warming. Imagine Joshua Tree National Park devoid of its namesake trees. Or Glacier National Park without the glaciers. Sadly, these things may come to pass if we don’t continue to work together to combat global warming.

Joshua Trees are unique to the Mojave Desert and are particularly sensitive to environmental pressure. They need the cooler temperatures and winter freezes in the high desert to flower and produce seed. They grow at an incredibly slow rate of one-half inch per year, and the moisture they hold is what allows many creatures to survive the dry summers.

According to a 2006 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council Global Warming threatens our parks in various ways:

- Frequent Fires:
Earlier snow melt in the mountains makes for longer fire seasons with more potential for damage. The Sawtooth Fire in 2006 consumed 37,000 acres and countless Joshua Trees.

- Rising Sea Levels: Parks like Pt. Reyes National Seashore are at risk of disappearing due to rising sea levels.

- Species Extinction: Higher temperatures and drought threaten the survival of important plants and animals and invite invasive species that cause other problems (such as quick-burning, non-native grasses in the high desert).

- Intolerable Heat: As desert parks get hotter (Death Valley has summer highs that average in the hundreds) they will be intolerable to visitors, plants, and animals alike.

- Flood Damage: Rapid snow melt and more heavy rain in place of snow cause erosion and damage to plants.

- Pollution: Warming temperatures increase ozone levels, which cause unhealthy levels of air pollution in many parks, including Joshua Tree.

I wish I had a recommendation for action to save our parks but I don’t. Do visit and appreciate them. And, of course, leave a light footprint. Appreciating our amazing parks reminds me of the importance of small things…like voting for environmental leaders, driving less, conserving more, and all the things we talk about every day here at EcoSalon.

Image: velo4it

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.