It’s hard to imagine a name less befitting the grandeur of the endangered grouse than “lesser prairie chicken.” Trifling grouse, maybe? Boring ground bird? It’s hard to say which is the worst. All of them fall far short in capturing the striking physical appearance and peculiar mating behavior of the prairie denizen.
Sure, the lesser prairie chicken wambles a bit in flight because of a body that looks like a partially deflated balloon. But this bird also boasts coral-colored throat sacs, bright orange eye combs, and expressive ear tufts that stand up like a headdress when the male is engaged in pageantry and droop in hangdog fashion following a rejection or a defeat in battle. In a weird way, the incongruity between the prairie chicken’s plump shape and brilliant adornments only adds to its allure. It’s nature’s equivalent of the family station wagon tricked out with racing stripes and a rear spoiler. It’s impossible not to watch as it cruises by.
The lesser prairie chicken’s mating behavior might be even more fascinating than its appearance. When lesser prairie-chickens lek (breed), a whole host of males will compete for some personal space in the sand sage so that they can entice females to view an elaborate mating display. The few females that dare enter this obstreperous battle ground are pursued relentlessly, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the human dating scene. The males will puff and stunt and grapple as they struggle for attention. Erratic clashes send peppery feathers flying through the air to get caught in the grama stalks and sagebrush. The bird becomes a blaze of sunset colors as he stamps, shuffles, and bobs among the buffalo grass. He will genuflect before a female, wings spread out on the ground, his tail lifted. Or perhaps he’ll perform a flutter jump with quick flaps of striped wings. The dance is a signal of both fitness and intelligence, and females choose the prospective mate with the smartest moves.
The sweetness of the song matters, too, and males will trill and chortle in their attempt to win a female chicken’s approval. When male chickens pin their heads forward to make a slow, seductive approach, they flare their tails and peak their ear feathers as their throats grow swollen with a booming vibrato song. A male will squeak, cackle, drum, and gobble, and his voice will rise in an excited “pike call” when he feels the time is ripe to woo a mate. His boom can travel a mile across the plains, sounding like approaching thunder. If a competitor interrupts, the birds break back into combat with stabbing beaks and swinging wings. When the feathers clear, the victor gets right back to dancing and singing.
It’s a ritual that might seem better suited to the rainforest, where the far more charitably named superb bird of paradise struts his stuff. Or maybe you’d expect such grandiose behavior from the more positively monikered bowerbird—who will adorn his tiny palace of sticks with colorful litter and show off his wing flicks when a potential mate comes to scope out his digs. But, unlike the Bowerbirds, you won’t find an Indie band calling themselves the Lesser Prairie Chickens, at least not without a heavy dose of irony. The hidden cost of such a misnomer is that those unacquainted with the lesser prairie chicken’s humble majesties find it easy to subject the bird to scorn or depict it as insignificant. After all, what’s one little chicken against the tide of economic progress?
Quite a lot, actually. For one, the lesser prairie chicken’s decline can teach us important lessons about the sensitivity and interdependence of ecosystems. The deliberate eradication of bison and prairie dogs, and the suppression of naturally occurring wildfires, allowed mesquite, redcedar, and other woody plants to pervade the shortgrass prairie, disrupting prairie chicken breeding and nesting grounds. Mess with even one player in an ecosystem, and watch the rest suffer. If the losses snowball? Well, the extinction of the lesser prairie chicken could serve as a tipping point for the collapse of an iconic American landscape. Such is the peril of eliminating species that have existed on the American prairie for tens of thousands of years.
The lesser prairie chicken also serves as a herald for the precarity of its prairie habitats. When climatic and habitat conditions are favorable for the lesser prairie chicken, livestock fares well. When things are rough for the prairie chicken, ranchers and farmers can expect a hard season. In other words, the herd does as the bird does.
Despite the prairie chicken’s clear role in supporting human endeavors, we’ve responded by decimating its habitat, chopping it up with cropland, livestock grazing areas, fences, oil and gas wells, powerlines (which provide a perch for birds of prey), buildings, and roads. We’ve diminished the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat by 85%, and as a result their population has declined by as much as 99% in some ecoregions. Of the remaining habitat patches, only around .1% are sufficiently unfragmented to sustain even a minimum population of lesser prairie chickens. A decade ago, an already diminished lesser prairie chicken population declined by half in a single year. The threats to the bird are myriad. Lesser prairie chickens succumb to fungus-based biotoxins that fester in waste grains and watch their eggs get thrashed by harvesting equipment or get roasted in their nests by soaring temperatures. Lesser prairie chickens are hardy and can typically satisfy their water needs on dew and sand sage, but in times of drought, which climate change is making more frequent and severe, they seek out larger water sources, where more predators lurk in wait.
Field studies have suggested that oil and gas development could completely eliminate lesser prairie chicken populations. This is because the birds don’t just avoid the roads built to access stations or the wellpads themselves, but flee the entire oil and gas field. The birds despise the wellfield noise and oil-well-wastewater.
Rather than support a bird whose diet is primarily comprised of insects that damage crops, and whose wellbeing is a bellwether for the health of an entire ecosystem, some still argue that we should give priority to the same fossil fuel interests we’ve propped up with tax and energy policies for a century—despite the enormous profits the industry already reaps and the enormous damage it inflicts. In one year, the 1,800 largest fossil fuel companies made $500 billion in profits, yet they still received direct subsidies totaling $700 billion. That astronomical number doesn’t even include the health and environmental costs of pollution that are passed on to the public. The estimates for subsidies can climb as high as $5 trillion per year when all the damages that will occur as a result of climate-related events are accounted for. Fossil fuel companies then use those subsidies to quash environmental protection efforts.
But it’s the environmental protection efforts that work and the subsidies that don’t. Ninety-nine percent of species granted Endangered Species Act protections have avoided extinction, and concerted conservation efforts have been successful at boosting the lesser prairie chicken population levels in recent years. In contrast, fossil fuel subsidies have forever failed to improve production or create jobs. They’re so ineffective that the costs, in terms of public health and production lost due to pollution, actually exceed the value of the subsidies.
Don’t be fooled by fearmongering—the only way to gain true energy independence is to ditch fossil fuels. Endangered Species Act protections are stiff, so the proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken as endangered in its southern range and threatened in the northern grasslands could play a huge role in shutting off the wellspring of wasted money taxpayers gift to fossil fuel executives, a gratuity that comes at the expense of taxpayer’s own health and the wellbeing of their environments.
The lesser prairie chicken is anything but trifling or boring, and a grouse by any other name would sing as sweetly. It’s past time we stopped propping up industries that pollute our prairies and started supporting the animals that lend them song and color. For heaven is here where the prairie chicken lives.
The rugged Centennial Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border are inhabited by grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, sage grouse, and other vulnerable wildlife.
Unfortunately, the Centennial Mountains are also home to the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, an anachronistic domestic sheep “experiment” plunked in the middle of these wild public lands, which makes it a dangerous—and too often deadly—place for imperiled native wildlife.
It’s way beyond time to stop experimenting with domestic sheep in the Centennial Mountains, so please contact Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and demand he repurposes the Sheep Station to protect wildlife.
WildEarth Guardians and our allies recently scored a victory in federal court that gives hope to the native wildlife dependent on the Centennial Mountains. The judge ruled against a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to graze domestic sheep in and around the Sheep Station. The all-important question remains whether the federal government will now recognize that this ecologically-detrimental Sheep Station has long outlived its purpose.
Founded over 100 years ago, when domestic sheep production had a much larger national importance, the Sheep Station is a dangerous place for native wildlife. The Sheep Station presents dangers such as domestic sheep transmitting fatal pneumonia to native bighorn sheep herds and likely hostility towards grizzly bears—such as in 2012 when an illegally killed grizzly bear’s radio collar was found tucked beneath a log in a stream on the Sheep Station.
It’s long overdue for the federal government to honestly assess the impacts to the region’s iconic wildlife against the minimal value the domestic Sheep Station provides. The Centennial Mountains are a critical wildlife corridor, connecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to other wild public lands to the north and west, and the Sheep Station therefore threatens wildlife populations far beyond this remote mountain range.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack already in his first term under the Obama administration acknowledged that the Sheep Station no longer makes sense. Now, for the sake of the many populations of wildlife dependent on these remote mountains, it is time to stop the dangerous experiment in this important habitat.
Take action today and demand that Secretary Vilsack repurpose the Sheep Station to protect bighorns, grizzlies, wolves, and sage grouse.
WildEarth Guardians was in court today defending grizzly bears and wild places on the Flathead National Forest. Check out the video above to see what our staff attorney, Marla Fox, had to say as she exited the federal courthouse in Missoula, Montana immediately following the court hearing.
The Flathead National Forest in northwestern Montana is a crown jewel of America’s public lands. Bordering Glacier National Park and Canada, the national forest contains some of the most intact wildlands and free-flowing rivers in the country and is a key part of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The Flathead is a refuge for many imperiled species—including grizzly bears, Canada lynx, gray wolves, wolverine, and bull trout. Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service’s revised Forest Plan, which will guide all future forest activities for the next 15 years or more, is prioritizing resource extraction activities that destroy habitats and disturb wildlife—industrial logging, road building, motorized wreckreation, and livestock grazing.
That’s why WildEarth Guardians and our allies have sued the U.S. Forest Service, challenging the revised Flathead Forest Plan for failing to take a hard look at the plan’s impacts on grizzly bears and wild places. We’re also challenging the Forest Service’s decision to adopt a decade-old winter travel plan without considering new winter travel planning requirements and changes in the status of imperiled species and habitat since it was first adopted, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the Flathead Forest Plan isn’t dangerous to grizzly bears and other wildlife, and the habitat they need to survive.
This lawsuit is another prime example of WildEarth Guardians’ relentless defense of grizzly bears and wild public lands. Guardians like you have been with us every step of the way, previously submitting thousands of comments to the U.S. Forest Service during the Flathead Forest Plan revision process and speaking out in support of grizzlies. Thank you!
Please also consider making a donation to our Grizzly Bear Defense Fund. Every dollar raised will be put to work defending grizzlies and preserving habitat on public lands. We will never stop fighting for grizzly bears, and with you at our side, we will guard the Great Bear.
Two American crown jewels were at risk. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the grizzly bears that animate Yellowstone and its surrounding landscapes.
The U.S. Forest Service wanted to unleash bulldozers and logging equipment to create a lasting, Manhattan-sized scar on the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana. Bulldozers would have fragmented critical grizzly habitat with new roads and chainsaws would have clearcut native forests—right at the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park. In the midst of a biodiversity crisis, no less.
Then WildEarth Guardians sprang into action. Together with our allies, in fierce defense of this important habitat, we challenged this huge clearcutting and roadbuilding plan just outside of the world’s first national park. Then, on May 13, the Forest Service announced that it was halting this misguided project—providing a respite for grizzly bears, lynx, pine martens, and wolverines and preserving solitude and wildness along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. We did this together.
If the Forest Service tries to revive this clearcutting and roadbuilding scheme, we’ll continue standing against it. That’s what Guardians do. Protect the vulnerable.
Fact is, WildEarth Guardians has been—and always will be—relentless in our defense of grizzly bears and the secure habitat they need to survive and thrive. And you’ve been with us every step of the way. Guardians like you have submitted tens of thousands of comments in defense of the Great Bear. You supported our lawsuit to retain Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and our lawsuit seeking to end the unethical practice of bear-baiting on national forests in Wyoming and Idaho. You’ve raised your voice to protect bears from proposed trophy hunts and demanded that Burlington Northern Railway “brake” to give grizzlies a “break” on tracks bordering Glacier National Park.
Any sports fan knows “Defense wins championships.” At Guardians, we know that relentless defense saves grizzly bears.
Please support our Grizzly Bear Defense Fund today with a gift of $25, $100, $250, or whatever you can and know that your dollars will be put to work defending grizzlies and preserving habitat on public lands.
We will never stop fighting for grizzly bears. With you at our side—and your generous support—we will guard the Great Bear.
On May 6, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed a gray wolf extermination bill into law that allows hunters, trappers—and even paid private contractors—to slaughter up to 90% of the wolves in Idaho.
The new law permits the killing of wolves by various cruel and unethical means, including night hunting with night-vision equipment, aerial gunning, and hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. In addition to letting individuals kill as many wolves as they want, the new law authorizes year-round wolf trapping on private lands, including during the season when pups and females are most vulnerable.
This new Idaho wolf extermination law is only possible because ten years ago this month federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections were stripped from gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and northern Utah via a rider attached by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) to a must-pass budget bill.
This undemocratic move a decade ago—which blocked any judicial review of the rider—opened the floodgates for widespread wolf killing in the northern Rockies. Over the past few years, state “management” of wolves in the northern Rockies has included Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) hiring a professional hunter-trapper to go into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to slaughter wolves and IDFG conducting aerial gunning operations to butcher wolves in some of the most remote roadless federal wildlands remaining in the lower-48 states.
More recently—during a 12-month period—hunters, trappers, and state and federal agencies killed 570 wolves in Idaho, including at least 35 wolf pups. The state of Idaho also allows a $1,000 “bounty” paid to trappers per dead wolf, including wolves killed deep within some of America’s largest and wildest Wilderness areas.
The dire situation for wolves in Montana is much the same. Fresh off revelations that Governor Greg Gianforte did not have a valid license when he trapped and shot a collared Yellowstone wolf, Gov Gianforte has signed numerous draconian bills to slaughter more wolves. New barbaric laws in Montana allow hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number of wolves, allow a wolf “bounty,” extend the wolf-trapping season, permit strangulation neck snares, and authorize night-time hunting of wolves on private lands and baiting of wolves.
The vicious situation facing wolves in Montana and Idaho proves that the gray wolf still needs federal ESA protections. As we warned ten years ago, state “management” of wolves essentially amounts to the brutal state-sanctioned eradication of this keystone species.
WildEarth Guardians and our allies filed a lawsuit ten years ago in an attempt to overturn this undemocratic, spiteful wolf rider because we believed the wolf delisting rider violated the U.S. Constitution. While our lawsuit wasn’t successful because Congress simply closed the courthouse doors, the on-going attempts to decimate wolf populations in Idaho and Montana warrant national outrage and action.
State ‘management’ of wolves in Idaho and Montana harkens back to an era when people sought to exterminate wolves altogether, and nearly succeeded. These types of actions were not only deplorable in the early 1900s, but they have zero place in science-based management of a keystone species in 2021, especially in the midst of dual nature and climate crises.
President Biden, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and Congress must take immediate action to restore federal Endangered Species Act protections for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states—including in the northern Rockies—before it’s too late.
We must not abandon wolf-recovery efforts or allow anti-wolf states, hunters, and trappers to push these iconic species back to the brink of extinction.
While the existential plight of the polar bear losing its critical habitat to climate change is well known, fewer of us are aware of a similar predicament facing one of the most iconic and beloved species in our backyard: the Joshua tree.
Already stressed by a changing climate, the pre-historic Joshua tree has been pushed even farther toward the brink of impending extinction by two recent events. During last summer’s devastating California wildfire season, a three-day wildfire furiously swept across the Joshua tree range, dealing a cruel blow to an already imperiled species. The blaze burned 43,273 acres—25 percent of the contiguous Joshua tree forest—that included roughly 1.3 million of the iconic trees. With the proliferation of highly flammable non-native grasses, coupled with a warmer and drier climate, such fires have been forecast to occur with more frequency and intensity in the decades to come.
Though they are long-lived, hardy desert plants, Joshua trees only thrive within a narrow window of environmental conditions. In the decades ahead, the land where those conditions will exist will shift far faster than the trees themselves will be able to naturally move through germination. To ensure the survival of these slow-moving plants, we need to protect their current and future range both by generally addressing greenhouse gas emissions and by specifically curtailing damaging human activities—such as off-roading, overgrazing, or building large-scale energy projects—in places critical to their survival. The most effective way to protect this habitat is by placing the Joshua tree on the list of threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
This leads to the second devastating blow to the Joshua tree in recent years: the 2019 decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to deny a petition to list the Joshua tree as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, scientists had abundant evidence that increasing temperatures were already causing the species’ range to contract. Climate models show this loss could become significantly worse over the next few decades as prolonged drought takes hold and the frequency and intensity of wildfires increases. In several of the most current climate models, the zone of appropriate climate for the tree will shift drastically by century’s end and, in the most severe scenario, we will witness a 90 percent reduction of its distribution in its range starting in 2070. Despite the Fish and Wildlife Service’s standard to employ the “best available science,” and despite the clear mandate of the Endangered Species Act to protect both flora and fauna from extinction, the federal government decided to bury its head in the desert sand, ignore the evidence, and conclude that the Joshua tree had “enough resiliency” to survive the years ahead.
The Joshua tree, along with the plants and animals that depend on it and the many nature lovers that enjoy being near it, need the Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse its decision. The stakes could not be clearer: inaction means that, within many of our lifetimes, Joshua Tree National Park may very well lose the park’s namesake.
To avoid such a lamentable day, WildEarth Guardians is challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service in court. You can lend your support to our lawsuit by urging Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to take action. We must act swiftly by listing the Joshua tree under the federal Endangered Species Act and, more broadly, by acting to substantially curb greenhouse gas emissions. Such action will give these ancient desert dwellers a fighting chance to survive.
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It had seemed for the past half century that perhaps the worst of wolf killing was finally over. After centuries of methodic extermination had nearly completely wiped the animals out of the lower forty-eight, government agencies, scientists, and the general public began to see wolves not primarily as threats to private property, but rather, as invaluable ecological assets that stabilized the ecosystems relied upon by many in the West.
In 1974, the gray wolf was one of the first imperiled species to receive federal protections under the newly-passed Endangered Species Act, As wolves were subsequently reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid 1990s, and thus began migrating to regain their historic range, they slowly began to recover.
A series of recent events across the country make clear this work of wolf recovery has never been in greater jeopardy. In January, the Trump administration finalized the removal of gray wolves from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act and, within a matter of weeks, we witnessed a disturbing new chapter in the nation’s history of needless and irresponsible wolf killing.
In Wisconsin, just a few weeks ago, over 27,000 people applied for an ill-conceived hunt during the wolves’ mating season that, in only three days, left 216 gray wolves dead. Shocked state officials had to call off the hunt prematurely, but not before the three-day slaughter led to 82 percent more wolf deaths than the state had allocated for the entire hunting and trapping season.
Meanwhile, in Montana, a state in which wolves lost Endangered Species Act protections in 2011, not by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service), but by a political act of Congress, the federal delisting emboldened the state to up its efforts to eliminate wolves from the landscape. In the past month, the Montana Senate passed a bill allowing for private bounties for dead wolves and the Montana House passed a bill expanding hunting and trapping seasons (and allowing snares) in an effort to further reduce wolf populations. The traps and snares, which often prolong an animal’s death, are indiscriminate and dangerous not only to wolves but also to non-target species. In a recent six-year period in Montana, for example, at least 350 non-target animals, ranging from mountain lions to pet dogs, were caught in traps. Montana’s recent laws to incentivize and further enable wolf hunting are not simply inhumane, they severely threaten to undo gray wolf recovery efforts and destabilize ecosystems.
These recent activities follow on the heels of a similarly unsettling example of failed state-level wolf management in Idaho, where wolves have also been delisted since 2011. There, over a recent twelve-month period, trappers, hunters, and state and federal agencies killed an astounding 570 wolves, including at least thirty-five wolf pups as young as four weeks old. These wolves, some of whom died of hypothermia in traps or were gunned down from helicopters, represented nearly sixty percent of the total estimated wolf population in the state at the end of 2019. This high number of wolf kills directly reflect the state’s wolf policies: Idaho recently increased the legal limit of wolves an individual can kill in a year to thirty, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game currently funds wolf bounty programs in the state.
Taken together, the examples of Idaho, Wisconsin, and Montana give us all the evidence we need that state-led management does not ensure the protection and recovery of gray wolves.
This horrifying slaughter of wolves in just a few states—based not on science, but on fear and hatred for a long persecuted species—is why WildEarth Guardians has joined a broad coalition of groups across the country to challenge the Service’s decision to delist wolves in court. Wolves have not recovered in the West and the decision to delist them goes against the intent of the Endangered Species Act, which not only mandates the federal government to forestall the extermination of gray wolves but also, crucially, to promote their full recovery. Although this law has played an enormous role in preventing the wholesale loss of gray wolves in the contiguous US, its work to ensure their continued survival and recovery, as these recent examples in Montana, Idaho, and Wisconsin make all too clear, is far from finished.
To let the work of gray wolf recovery go unfinished would be a tragedy hard to tabulate. Gray wolves are a keystone species that play a critical role in the ecological health of their historic range. Being listed under the Endangered Species Act has allowed gray wolves to begin to rebound in the upper Great Lakes region, yet their recovery there does nothing for the populations of gray wolves throughout the West, where the animals remain largely absent or underpopulated in their historic range. For example, in Oregon and Washington, estimates indicate less than 150 wolves in each state while in Colorado, a location in which wolves roamed across all landscapes in the 1800s through early 1900s, has only reported sightings of a handful of lone wolves in the last two years. The example of success in the upper Great Lakes region should not be used to dismantle wolf protections, but rather, to illustrate the continued need for those protections throughout the country where wolf populations remain extremely vulnerable. Only ongoing federal protections, based on scientific data, will guarantee gray wolves a continued and healthy future in this country. To that end, please urge the Biden administration to restore Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves.
As our nation reckons with its story of conquest, recent killing sprees of gray wolves in the remote forests of Wisconsin or the northern Rockies should not go unnoticed. The brutal and bloody history of gray wolves—along with other native megafauna such as bison—in our country is inextricably tied to the larger history of colonization and violence that continues to shape our society. Our country has a deep history of White settlers demonizing the animals in folklore and frontier mythology and equating Native Americans to wolves and other animals within the broader project of colonization. Seen in this light, recent wolf hunts such as what we recently witnessed in Wisconsin are not merely mismanaged debacles, they are part of a much deeper, far more tragic, story. “Wolves symbolized the frustrations and anxieties of colonization,” as historian Jon T. Coleman has written regarding wolf history in this country, “and the canines paid in blood for their utility as metaphor.”
As we are painfully aware, the history of colonization, and of White frustrations and anxieties surrounding colonization, is ongoing. Gray wolves, sadly, may continue to be part of the story. But gray wolves, and the unsound policies and unethical practices aimed at killing them, also present a way to dive deeper into the nation’s history of colonization and violence in search of ways to reconsider a better future. Wolves are “living reminders of colonization,” in Coleman’s words, that “embody an unbroken history of conquest worth pondering and protecting.” As the nation grapples with its history, protecting the gray wolf is not simply about ensuring healthy ecosystems; it is also about preserving a living historical monument to our nation’s violent past and reaffirming a commitment to rise above that legacy of conquest.
A western icon and the namesake of Joshua Tree National Park in California, the Joshua tree’s spiny majesty has dominated Mojave Desert landscapes for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the tree’s inability to withstand the effects of climate change means it may not be around for the next hundred unless we take action now.
Reasons to save the Joshua tree
1. People love it.
From the 2.8 million visitors who flock to Joshua Tree National Park every year—including an estimated 300,000 rock climbers—to the band U2, the surreal beauty of Joshua trees captivates people worldwide.
2. Joshua Tree National Park without the Joshua tree is just “national park.”
That just sucks for a name.
3. It’s a closer relative to tequila than to trees.
The Joshua tree isn’t really a tree at all—it’s a giant yucca and a member of the Agave family.
4. Giant sloths were its biggest fans.
The species lived through the Pleistocene, when its fruits were food for giant sloths. Native Americans used the Joshua tree’s leaves for baskets and sandals and ate its flower buds and seeds. Westbound Mormons allegedly named the tree after a biblical story that mentioned Joshua, his hands outstretched. Generations later, Westerners and visitors alike continue to marvel at this strange plant.
5. We’re killing it with climate change.
Joshua trees are adapted to cold winters, hot summers, and little precipitation. With the southwest drying and warming due to climate change, most climate models agree that Joshua trees will lose up to 90 percent of their habitat in the next century.
6. It’s a moth’s best friend and a bird’s last refuge.
The Joshua tree is the product of an amazing symbiosis. Yucca moths pollinate and lay their eggs in Joshua tree flowers. As the babies grow, they eat Joshua tree seeds. Neither tree nor moth could reproduce without the other.
The tree is also a wildlife haven: 25 bird species nest in it, lizards use it for shelter, and mammals rely on it for food.
7. It’s old school.
While it’s hard to tell a Joshua tree’s true age, as it has no growth rings, trees may live over 300 years, making them probably the oldest living things in the American southwest desert.
8. It’s a slow plant in a fast world.
Joshua trees reproduce slowly. Their generation time is estimated to be between 20 and 50 years. Therefore, if we want to conserve them for future generations, we’ll need to start now.
They’re slow movers, too. The Joshua tree depends on rodents to disperse its seeds, but the rodents don’t move far from the trees. This means that when climate change threatens its habitat, the Joshua tree can’t easily expand its habitat to higher/colder/more hospitable ground.
9. It really needs our help.
Climate change, higher temperatures, longer droughts, and larger and more frequent fires are already taking their toll on Joshua trees, which need wet and cold periods to thrive and take decades to recover from fires.
Thankfully, WildEarth Guardians has a plan to protect the Joshua tree, and it starts with petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect it under the federal Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the Service denied the petition in August 2019, so in November 2019 Guardians took the Service to court.
As our lawsuit makes its way through the court system, you can support Joshua tree conservation by urging the federal government to reconsider the Service’s denial of Endangered Species Act protections for the Joshua tree.
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A western icon, the Joshua tree has dominated Mojave Desert landscapes for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the Joshua tree’s inability to withstand the effects of climate change means it may not be around for the next hundred unless we take action now: https://guardiansaction.org/JoshuaTree
Representative Deb Haaland’s nomination by President Biden to lead the Interior Department represents an historic opportunity to drive the systemic change the natural world, our climate, and our country so desperately need.
If confirmed, Haaland—an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo—would be the first Indigenous person to run any Cabinet-level department in the history of the United States.
The full Senate vote to confirm Representative Haaland will be Monday, March 15, so we’re asking you to contact both of your senators today.
Unfortunately, Biden’s most historic Cabinet nomination could also be his most imperiled. That’s because senators in the back pocket of the dirty fossil fuel industry simply don’t want a climate justice activist and protector of public lands at the reins of the Interior Department. Which is why we’re asking you—imploring you—to speak out on behalf of Haaland’s confirmation today.
Representative Haaland is a steadfast champion of bold climate action, environmental justice, Tribal rights, and protection of public lands and endangered wildlife.
In Congress, Haaland has been at the forefront of issues central to the climate and nature crises that the Interior Department must address. The Interior Department must stop the plundering of public lands, protect endangered species, implement policies that nurture an ethic of wildlife coexistence, protect 30% of all lands by 2030, and expand and deepen protection of national parks, monuments, and cultural sites.
Representative Haaland is exactly the visionary leader America needs to guide the Interior Department toward justice, equity, conservation, and environmental protection at this pivotal point in history. Her bold vision to address the nature and climate crises is precisely why some senators—and the resource exploiters bankrolling their election campaigns—adamantly oppose her leading the Interior Department.
They’re saying she’s too radical. But Haaland is merely committed to the bold and just path of transitioning our nation off our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
Confirmation of Representative Haaland to be Interior Secretary would be a monumental step forward for Indigenous rights, climate action, environmental justice, and protection of public lands and threatened wildlife. In these times we need bold leadership, so please join me and urge your senators to support and confirm Representative Haaland to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior.