Joshua Tree closes hiking trail to protect bighorn sheep
The National Park Service (NPS) has closed the Fortynine Palms Trail in Joshua Tree National Park for an undetermined amount of time as California faces ongoing drought. The closure is to help protect a critical water source for bighorn sheep. The park service said the closure, which began last week, “will remain in place until summer monsoons provide adequate rainfall to increase water availability,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
While the Fortynine Palms Oasis is one of the few reliable water sources for wildlife and the oasis itself is closed to hikers because it is a “sensitive biological area” as well as a “crucial water supply for plant and wildlife,” the trail has been specifically closed to prohibit hikers since the park has experienced a 50% uptick in visitors since 2015 with a record 3.06 million visitors in 2021.
There are currently 200 bighorn sheep that live in Joshua Tree, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Recent research in Joshua Tree has shown a significant loss of open water in the form of springs and seeps,” according to NPS. “This loss of water, especially during the hot and dry summer months has contributed to a significant loss of available habitat [for bighorn sheep].”
If the bighorn sheep are pushed out of Joshua Tree in search of water, it could result in more genetic isolation, which is already a major factor in sustaining wild sheep populations.