California’s York Fire Sweeps Across Mojave Desert, Threatening Wildlife and Joshua Trees
The York Fire burning across the desert of southeastern California and Nevada is California’s biggest fire yet this year. It started Friday in the Mojave National Preserve and crossed into Nevada over the weekend as winds picked up over the dry landscape.
“Given an exceptionally wet winter and cool spring, larger fires in sparsely vegetated areas that are typically ‘fuel limited’ should be expected due to the extra vegetation growth such conditions foster,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at University of California, Los Angeles, as The New York Times reported.
“A combination of a wet winter combined with increasing levels of invasive grasses and mustards expanding across the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, the Mojave National Preserve is seeing an increase in fire frequency over the past decade. This is a departure from historic norms, as Joshua Trees and other desert adapted plants have limited natural defenses or propagation techniques when fires occur around them,” the Incident Information System website said.
The York Fire is one of dozens burning across the U.S. and is creating unique “fire whirls” that form when hot air rises and cooler air rushes in to replace it, resulting in what is sometimes called a “fire tornado,” reported CNN.
“These fire whirls are similar to dust devils but are specifically associated with the heat and energy released by a wildfire,” according to the Mojave National Preserve, as CNN reported. “They can range in size from a few feet to several hundred feet in height, and their rotational speed can vary widely.”
The national preserve said the region’s characteristic Joshua Trees have been suffering in the extreme heat of the past several years, reported USA Today, and the ongoing York wildfire will likely make matters worse.
“If an area with Joshua trees burns through, most will not survive and reproduction in that area is made more difficult. Wildfires could also result in the loss of irreplaceable resources in the park, like historic structures and cultural artifacts,” the Joshua Tree National Park website said.
“Joshua Tree National Park has been getting hotter and drier over the past century in large part due to human-caused climate change. … The changing climate also affects many of our animal species. Most evolved to survive in a hot, arid environment. However, they will now be forced to adapt, migrate, or perish,” the website said. “Desert bighorn sheep will lose lower elevation habitat and will need to migrate to higher and higher elevations. This will likely cause more genetic isolation than bighorn populations already face and could lead to them not being able to live in the park. The desert tortoise population has already plummeted due to habitat loss, disease, raven predation, and climate change.”
“Smoke from regional, climate-fueled wildfires adds to poor air quality and creates a health hazard. Excessive heat contributes to heat-related illnesses and dehydration,” the website said. “With a hotter, drier climate, the changes to our biodiversity could lead to less wildlife sightings, fewer annual wildflowers, and far fewer Joshua trees dotting the landscape.”