Brendan Cummings doesn’t need to go far to find a dying signature of Southern California’s desert landscape: He stands on his porch and eyes whole forests of Joshua trees that haven’t produced seedlings in decades.
Interspersed among the trees are exotic grasses that feed off nitrogen-laden smog wafting in from the Los Angeles area. They have left the spindly woodlands in the hills north of Joshua Tree National Park vulnerable to brush fires spurred by a whiplash of wetter winters and drier summers, due to climate change.
“If we don’t take action soon, the only places we’ll still have Joshua trees to ooh and aah over will be botanical gardens and old Instagram accounts,” said Cummings, who lives near Yucca Valley and is conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group.
The center hopes to spur that action on Tuesday, when it is expected to file a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission, seeking that it list the western Joshua tree as threatened under the state Endangered Species Act. If that designation were approved, it could end up curbing development on thousands of acres of private desert property.
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