Brown Bag Lunch Lecture – November 17, 2016

The status of the Joshua Tree at Joshua Tree National Park

with Neil Frakes, Division of Resource Management at Joshua Tree National Park

Bring your lunch, bring your friends, or just bring yourself to our Brown Bag Lunch Lecture Series once a month.  Speakers will present topics of special interest for high desert residents. The lectures start at 12:00 p.m. Admission is $ 5 – Free for Members/Sponsors – beverages will be served.

There is growing concern among the scientific community that Joshua trees are vulnerable to climate change. Predictive modelling efforts have shown that Joshua trees could be extirpated from Joshua Tree National Park within 80 years or reduced to approximately 10 percent of their current range and restricted to areas known as refugia. A lack of seedling establishment has also been found at the harshest, driest sites at lower elevations. Recently a petition has been put forward to consider listing the Joshua tree under the Endangered Species Act. Joshua trees are the namesake of the park and are a major attraction to visitors. Popular media has latched on to these findings, and visitors often wonder if Joshua trees are disappearing from the park. Vegetation staff at the park are beginning to establish a network of long-term monitoring plots to document changes to Joshua tree populations. We are sampling the same sites that were sampled in the 1970s as part of a Master’s thesis, allowing us to assess change over a 40 year period. Park staff are also focusing on sampling the lowest elevation areas where Joshua trees first start occurring, as these are likely most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and where signs of decline might already be noticeable. Joshua trees can also be impacted by wildfire, and the park is looking at ways to protect potential climate change refugia for Joshua trees from burning, as much of the area identified as refugia has already burned. Despite the growing concern for Joshua trees, there are a few signs of hope, that highlight the resilience of this long-lived desert species.

Photo: Research Associate measures the height of a Joshua tree, south of the North Entrance, Joshua Tree National Park.

Neil Frakes is the Vegetation Branch Chief in the Division of Resource Management at Joshua Tree National Park. He oversees a variety of vegetation based programs at the park including native plant restoration, invasive plant species management, field botany, climate change monitoring, and rock climbing stewardship. He started at Joshua Tree in July of 2015. He holds a B.A. in Geography and Environmental Studies from Macalester College , and an M.A. in Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Prior to working for the National Park Service, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. He grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.