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Conservation group wants Joshua trees listed as threatened

Joshua trees in bloom at Joshua Tree National Park on April 6, 2013.
Dave Bezaire/Flickr Creative Commons
File: Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua trees are feeling the effects of climate change, and one conservation group is hoping to help slow their decline.

WildEarth Guardians has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Joshua tree as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Joshua trees are found in California's Joshua Tree National Park, but they also grow in other parts of the Southwest, including Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

“With the Endangered Species Act protection, the federal government has to consult on any actions that they are doing that might impact the Joshua tree and its habitats,”  Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, told KPCC. “We want to, with this petition, shine a light on the impact that climate change is having now and continues to have on the Southwest. And the Joshua tree is really an indicator of that.”

The Southwest is a climate change "hot spot," and the areas where conditions are right to sustain the trees will likely shift faster than they can expand their range, the group argued in its petition.

Scientists have predicted that if warmer and drier weather persists, the trees will decline by 90 percent by the end of the century in Joshua Tree National Park, according to WildEarth. In addition, the trees face the threat of more frequent fires.

The organization has had several other species listed under the Endangered Species Act — including the Jemez Mountains salamander and New Mexico Meadow jumping mouse — according to Jones.

"We really need to look far into the future with this species because it takes so long to grow and reproduce," said Jones. "We owe to Joshua trees and future generations of people who would want to have that amazing experience of visiting Joshua Tree National Park to see these really bizarre, amazing plants. We owe it to them to get started now to ensure that they will still exist in a hundred years."