From: JANET ZIMMERMAN The Press-Enterprise, Environmental Health News, More from this Affiliate
Published June 21, 2009 07:50 AM

Desert icon Joshua trees are vanishing, scientists say

A breeze stirs the silence at Joshua Tree National Park as a red-tailed hawk takes flight from the spiky arm of one of the namesake plants in search of breakfast.

It's a scene that national parks protector Mike Cipra has witnessed many times. Still, he can't contain his enthusiasm on this early morning outing, despite the gloomy topic he's discussing with a visitor -- the probable extinction of the Joshua tree in the park that bears its name.

The ancient plants are dying in the park, the southern-most boundary of their limited growing region, scientists say. Already finicky reproducers, Joshua trees are the victim of global warming and its symptoms -- including fire and drought -- plus pollution and the proliferation of non-native plants. Experts expect the Joshuas to vanish entirely from the southern half of the state within a century.

A breeze stirs the silence at Joshua Tree National Park as a red-tailed hawk takes flight from the spiky arm of one of the namesake plants in search of breakfast.

It's a scene that national parks protector Mike Cipra has witnessed many times. Still, he can't contain his enthusiasm on this early morning outing, despite the gloomy topic he's discussing with a visitor -- the probable extinction of the Joshua tree in the park that bears its name.

The loss would be devastating, said Cipra, who is California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit group that evaluates conditions at national parks and lobbies for their preservation.

"Joshua trees aren't just iconic pictures on a postcard. They're essential to a functioning ecosystem," he said. "We're going to be losing a lot of what makes this place special."

Article continues:  http://www.pe.com/localnews/environment/stories/PE_News_Local_S_joshuatree21.474c058.html

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