The science surrounding the iconic western Joshua tree is grim. The tree’s suitable habitat is expected to decline substantially by 2100 due to climate change, especially in the southern portions of its range — meaning the Joshua tree would largely be unable to survive in its namesake park by the end of this century.
Identifying and protecting areas known as “climate refugia,” where Joshua trees may be able to thrive at higher elevations amid rising temperatures and climate change, will become even more important to the species’ survival. Outside of the park, the western Joshua tree’s habitat extends northeast through fast-growing high desert cities like Victorville, Hesperia and Palmdale, where California residents themselves have increasingly sought refuge from high housing prices — a crucial point for opponents who say listing the species would slow development in the region.
“We need energy and we need affordable housing… However, climate change is the number one threat to our species as humans, and if we don’t address that threat and put protections in place for our ecosystems, then all of the affordable energy and energy in the world isn’t going to matter because we’re not going to have a viable landscape to live in. Hopefully the listing would put in these protections for the trees and their habitat in a way that gives really clear guidelines for development,” Herbinson said.