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Bouse Parker: The sun is a giant blow torch aimed at your face. There ain't no shade nowhere. Let's hope you brought enough water. It's time for 90 miles from needles The desert protection podcast with your hosts, Chris Clarke and Alicia Pike.
Alicia: Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Alicia Pike
Chris: and I'm Chris Clarke,
Alicia: and this is 90 miles from needles.
Chris: In this episode, I'll talk about how the most recent report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change may turn out to be dangerous for desert protection. And we'll talk about attempts by the state of California to remove protection from the Western Joshua tree. But first, my favorite co-host has something to say about a practice that is becoming regrettably common out in the wild landscapes of the west, especially including the desert.
Chris: And it's a practice that you can end just by not doing it. Imagine that!
Alicia: I was on a reconnaissance hike working on finding this trail in Joshua tree national park, because it was likely to be a minimum eight to 10 hour hike, so needed to take the hike in chunks, figure it out, and then go back out there and do the whole thing, which we eventually did. But on this reconnaissance hike and wayfinding for.
Alicia: I call them boulder bowls because it's just boulders on boulders and the ground is boulders. There's no more sand you're out of the wash. You're just out there in a world of boulders. And I knew that there would be cairns marking the way, because this is a notoriously difficult section of rock to get through, and just finding the right canyon to go up was an issue.
Alicia: And if the proper cairns had been in the right places, that would have been a really simple thing. But instead there were little decorative rock piles, balanced rocks, all along the way. And once I had my trail figured out it was okay, but, you know, I kicked over all of the decorative ones because they’re.
Alicia: Really inappropriate in that area. And I did find an old, very clear cairn that marks this trail at the mouth of the canyon. And I was so relieved to find it because I knew this one has been here for a while. This one is, this is one of the wayfinding points. So I knew I'd finally found the right canyon, but it didn't exactly throw the hike off, but it lost about an hour and a half, maybe two hours on the hike, which was not great.
Alicia: Today we are talking about rock stacking, rock balancing, or cairns. In cultures across the globe. The word cairn, which has many cultural iterations is defined by a single significant purpose. Whereas modern rock stacking seems to exist solely for the sake of art or expression of oneself. There are two aspects to cairns that we're going to focus on: directional guidance,
Alicia: And disturbance of habitat. The word cairn comes from middle Gaelic, meaning mound of stones built as a memorial or a landmark. historical cairns were utilized for such purposes as covering a burial mound, marking boundaries, ceremonial uses for community, and most importantly, navigation. cairns are still used for navigation.
Alicia: But unfortunately their purpose has been usurped by a new age sense of spirituality and expression that helps nobody except for the creator. hiking trail cairns serve an important purpose. And that does not include self-expression for the sake of creating art. We don't want to get lost, people! Most national parks have intentional cairns meant to help direct hikers in the back country.
Alicia: Even cairns that are historical, like the Bates cairns in Acadia national park dating from the late 1890s. So making a simple rock stack wherever, whenever you got the inspiration can actually lead to other hikers becoming lost. The area that I was wayfinding through in Joshua tree national park has had more than a dozen search and rescue operations in that canyon because there's literally one way in and one way out that you can do on foot.
Alicia: Otherwise you need extensive climbing gear. Several national parks, like Acadia, Canyonlands, Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes national park have historical cairns. And the addition of unauthorized cairns destroys the cultural heritage and significance of the original cairns. all of these parks plead with tourists to not add their own decorative rock stack.
Alicia: I think it's important to note that we all retreat to the wilderness areas for essentially the same reason. We want to get away from society from concrete, from the hustle and bustle of city, streets and sidewalks. So for the life of me, I can't understand why people make their mark, their personal memento and leave it there for the rest of the visitors to that area to see.
Alicia: if you were out in the national park and you saw someone had spray painted a rock, you would consider that graffiti, the Rangers in Zion national park consider unauthorized cairns to be rock graffiti. An article from the high country news by Robin Martin, put it pretty bluntly “pointless cairns are simply pointless reminders of the human ego.”
Alicia: It's easy to dismiss the act of simply picking up a rock. Like it's no big deal. However, when you take a rock from its embedded position, you're exposing a whole micro world underneath small reptiles, bugs; in Riverbed situations You've got aquatic life. And they are forced from their homes and must flee, and it puts them at great risk to be prematurely predated on.
Alicia: When you move a rock in the desert, you're changing the drainage and erosion pattern, and it can have this butterfly effect to not only the life that was using it as a support system, but the actual features of the landscape will be altered. It's really important to keep these things in mind. And think about all the little microorganisms and all the critters and all the life.
Alicia: That depends on that rock to be where it is. The fact is it's a wilderness, it's a protected area. If it has any of those classifications, that's when you've got to think to yourself, “okay. Maybe I can't pick that wildflower. Maybe I can't make that rock stack.” And that's the compromise that we make so that we can share for future generations, the absolutely stunning and gorgeous wilderness wildlife areas that we have right now.
Chris: A couple of weeks ago, the intergovernmental panel on climate change also known as the IPC released the third section of its sixth annual assessment. I've read it. And I'm sad to say it's likely to make it harder to defend the desert. The press coverage of the IPCC is never very detailed, and it often verges on the sensational.
Chris: But the coverage I saw before I read the report itself implied that while things are dire, there are a few fairly concrete measures that we could take in the next three to five years to set ourselves on the right course. And I came into it with high hopes that those recommendations would recognize the importance of intact desert landscapes and fighting climate change.
Chris: But I was sorely mistaken. We'll get into why after the break,
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Bouse Parker: You're listening to 90 miles from needles, the desert protection podcast.
Bouse Parker: Don't take your dog on a desert hike in summer.
Chris: So if you're like me, your eyes kind of glaze over When people bring up the IPCC. And I'm interested in climate change. I'm a climate change walk. When I was maybe 14 years old, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Buffalo evening news in Buffalo, New York warning people of the potential impact of climate change.
Chris: Nixon was in the White house. And this was long before anyone except scientists and oil company executives knew for certain that climate change was happening. I mean, I've been an environmental journalist covering climate change since the early 1990s, and talk of the IPC makes me want to go to sleep. Now, if that's true of me, it may well be true of you as well.
Chris: So let's just try to clarify things first so that we can reach a basic understanding of what we're talking about without going into mind Numbing detail. The IPCC is the intergovernmental panel on climate change. It's part of the UN. it is made up of almost 200 member countries, Each of which contributes leading climate scientists, the IPCC doesn't conduct research.
Chris: It doesn't measure climate change. It doesn't keep track of temperatures or precipitation or wind speed or anything like that. What does it do then? Just this, the scientists that work with IPCC monitor the current state of knowledge on climate, mainly made up of peer reviewed studies published in scientific terms.
Chris: They try to come to consensus over what those articles mean altogether, when it comes to where we are as a planet, struggling to come to terms with climate change; and they write up reports about what they can agree on and how closely they can agree on it. And then all of the governments that sent the scientists to the IPCC have to agree to release those reports and they get watered down in the process.
Chris: When I say there's government review of those reports, which you could reasonably take to mean government interference in what the reports say, I'm not implying that we need to doubt the conclusions of the IPCC governments usually want to downplay the sense of emergency. So if anything, what the scientists put out that goes to review by those governments gets watered down
Chris: to date The IPCC has released six wide ranging reports called assessment reports. Each assessment report comes out in four pieces. And this is the last bit of wonkery I'll burden you with. But each of three different working groups puts out its own section. And then there's an overall summary. What are those working groups do?
Chris: Working group one looks strictly at the science, how much greenhouse gas have we put into the atmosphere? What effect has that had on climate? We're talking temperature changes, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in wind. The whole deal.
Chris: Working group two is concerned with the effects of that climate change on natural and social systems. Let's say the temperature has gone up three degrees. What does that mean for wildlife? What does that mean for agriculture? What does that mean for social unrest? What does it mean for water supplies? For cities? What does it mean for just the ability to go about living our lives? As we're used to that's working group two
Chris: , working group three talks about what can we do about it? How can we better mitigate the effects of climate change? How can we scale back the amount of greenhouse gases that we're putting into the atmosphere? How can we change the way our society works so that we're less likely to have a hard time making that shift less likely to have a hard time coping with the effects of the climate change.
Chris: We've already baked into the system that we can’t avoid. That's working group three. And that's the report that came out in April, 2022. Think of it this way. Working group one covers what's going on. working group two covers What is it going to do to us. and working group three covers What can we do about it? So why is it that I think this latest report will hinder those of us that want to protect the desert?
Chris: There's a lot of research lately on the importance of desert landscapes, not only for preserving biological diversity, but also for controlling climate change. Desert soils are increasingly recognized in study After study over the last decade as systems that will take carbon out of the air and store it as inorganic calcium carbonate and similar compounds.
Chris: Which then do not biodegrade. That's permanent carbon sequestration in desert soils. The deserts of the world might suck up as much as one fifth of the carbon that gets sequestered in the habitats around the world. That's a huge help in mitigating the greenhouse effect. And we're going to cover that more in an upcoming episode.
Chris: Deserts are also among the least altered environments on the planet, which often means wildlife habitat is intact and big. Which in turn means that there are lots of ways for wildlife to move to cooler places as the desert heats up and deserts also have a startling amount of biological diversity. In fact, the phrase biological diversity was first coined in a scholarly paper, describing the ecosystems in the Sonoran desert and preserving biological diversity is one of the most important goals of fighting climate change.
Chris: So I read the report thinking this is a summary of all the literature that has been published. All the studies that have been done in the last few years on anything relevant to climate change. And so surely they've looked at all the ways protecting the desert will help us battle climate change. However, here's what I found
Chris: In the most recent section of IPCC 6 that came out in April, 2022 there are three mentions of desert one's toward the beginning of the. And it mentions that cities and deserts tend to have less tree cover than do cities and other places it's around 28% cities in more well-watered areas might have half or two thirds of their land area covered in trees. Desert cities tend to run about 28%, nothing surprising there.
Chris: The next mention of deserts is on page 2086 and it goes. And I read verbatim: “deserts can be well-suited for solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power farms, especially at low latitudes, as there is lower competition for land and land, carbon loss is minimal.” End quote. And then on page 2091, In a matrix that describes potential problems and potential solutions with solar deployment, there is a piece that says that solar can displace food production due to competition for space, the loss of soil carbon, and a heat island effect in which dark solar panels absorb more sun and Create a local zone of higher temperature.
Chris:. And how does the report suggest avoiding these potential conflicts between solar and farming? I quote, “target areas on suitable for agriculture, such as deserts” for deploying solar.
Chris: In the meantime, the word desertification is mentioned a solid dozen times in the text of the report. And way more often in the footnotes desertification is mentioned at least four times as often as deserts in the most recent section of IPCC six. And if you're wondering why that's a problem, I might've asked the same question a few years ago. It's about this: desertification is a phenomenon in which people ruin a piece of land.
Chris: They overgraze it or have they plow and replow it. They compact the soil. They remove the tree cover and let the humus bake in the sun. They pump out all the groundwater, some combination of all of these Sometimes. they just thoroughly extract everything of value from that piece of land and make it ecologically pointless.
Chris: And that is what is called desertification. I've always wondered why we'd take this worst of all possible theoretical treatments of land and name it after a place that is rich in biological diversity. But I kind of left it at that until late last year. I read something really fascinating. That kind of changed the way I think about even the concept of desertification, regardless of what we call it.
Chris: Whether we call it dust bowl of vacation or parking, lot of vacation or terraforming and reverse, whatever we want. Anyway, what I read was the work of Diana Davis, who is a professor of history and geography at the university of California Davis. She has a recent book out called the arid lands, history, power knowledge.
Chris: She has a really interesting take on the concept of desertification. Here's a short passage from her book that made my eyes open really wide. “Academic research has shown for more than 25 years. The estimates of desertification have been significantly exaggerated and that most of the world's dry lands are not being invaded by spreading deserts caused by deforestation, burning and overgrazing as is often claimed.”
Chris: That was interesting. I read a little further quote “before the word desertification was coined in the 1920s by a French colonial forester, Western Imperial powers had executed many different programs to try to curtail the perceived spread of deserts and also to try to restore the dry lands to productivity.
Chris: Underlying those attempts was a complex, longstanding, and primarily Anglo European understanding of deserts that equated them with ruined forests. Much of the time, the assumption that the world is dry lands are worthless deforested and overgrazed landscapes has led since the colonial. To programs and policies that have often systematically damaged dry land environments and marginalized, large numbers of indigenous peoples, many of whom had been using the land sustainably” End quote. Davis points out that in the mid 20th century, when naked colonialism was kind of going out of fashion.
Chris: And the French and the English. And even to some extent, the Americans were shedding their old colonial properties and coming up with complicated client state relationships to keep the same dynamics going in a slightly more politically tolerable fashion that the concept of desertification was similarly, partly decolonized.
Chris: It was taken up by the newly liberated states in those colonies that had been facing what had been called desert. And perhaps the preeminent body working to spread. The idea is the IPCCs sister agency, the UN convention to combat desertification. Again, we're going to get more into desertification and, um, upcoming episode.
Chris: And I'm hoping that Diana Davis will join us on the podcast, but for now the importance of the focus on to certification and IPCC6 is just this: Desertification is a mindset in which deserts are seen as problems to be corrected, not as places to be protected. Let's say that again. Desertification is a mindset in which deserts are seen as problems to be corrected, not as places to be protected.
Chris: And that's the problem I had with IPCC six. Now will this report directly cause problems for the desert? Maybe yes, maybe no, it's too soon to tell. what it will absolutely do though, is provide additional fuel for the concept that sacrificing the deserts is the best quick fix for our climate problem. The urgency implied in the report will mean that people have more reason to do something to combat climate change, which is great.
Chris: But where IPCC six talks about the value of coasts and forests and Tundra and other kinds of environments. It is silent on the value of the desert. And this is really unfortunate. first off in an era in which the IPCC continues to be attacked by politically motivated, partisans whose ideology or next quarter profits compelled them to try to stall climate action.
Chris: Releasing a report that's so woefully lacking on current science about the deserts is disappointing. Indeed. More importantly though, we already have a society at large that sees the desert as valueless. We have a federal government that sees the desert as the appropriate place to strip mine for essential minerals to dump the green economies waste product.
Chris: And to replace wild habitat with focused renewable energy development, instead of developing renewables at the place where the energy would be used, such as rooftops and parking lots. And on top of warehouses and landfills and spent salinized farmland and similar places with not very much habitat value, the federal government in the U S has long considered the desert the best place to put large scale solar, regardless of the impact on habitat.
Chris: And if we were hoping that the UN in the form of the IPCC would. And provide a rationale to treat the deserts as something more than empty space. We learned otherwise with the release of the IPCC 6 report looks like those of us who want to defend the desert who think the desert has a right to exist for its own sake are not going to get any help from the federal government.
Chris: And now we know we're not going to get any help from the UN if we want the deserts protected or going to have to do it ourselves. And we have an opportunity to do just that, that will tell you about after the break.
Bouse Parker: you're listening to 90 miles from needles, the desert protection podcast. Leave the snakes alone.
Chris: As we're putting this episode together, we learned that the California department of fish and wildlife is recommending against protecting the Western Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California endangered species act.
Chris: It's not a done deal yet because the way it works in California is that the California fish and game commission as to make the ultimate decision. And we're going to have much more information on this in a very soon. Episode of 90 miles from needles. Very likely the very next one after this. But we wanted to just talk a little bit about this because it is one of those things where people's opinions can make a difference.
Chris: The fish and game commission, that's going to make the ultimate decision. This summer is a political body and they have to respect the science. They have to take a look at what the science actually says, but they also can make a decision based on what people in California want. As long as it's the science.
Chris: Contradicted. They decided to protect the gray Wolf after CFW recommended against it. And there are a couple of other species that they have recommended to protect since then that didn't have official CDFA backing. So the job of people that care about the desert, whether you live in California or not is to persuade the fish and game commission in California, that it's really in their interest. To give the Western Joshua tree protection,
Alicia: the newest, hottest science says they're retreating. So we're losing them. The climate is changing. So it's a pretty good reason to give them some protection. Their original range is sucking in. It's going way back.
Chris: Yeah. Agencies can take a lot of science and find little picky details to quibble over.
Chris: And you're right. The science is very plain that Joshua trees are. They're in trouble from climate change, keeping them from flowering and setting seed and keeping that seed from germinating. They're in trouble for him, climate enhanced fires and they are in trouble because people want to develop the desert
Alicia:. but is there a, like a petition format that we can bring both of these things to the table to say, Hey, we're reaching out to you directly. Hey, here's a whole list of thousands of people who care enough to. Put their name on the list.
Chris: There are going to be quite a few ways that people can make their opinions known the organization that. Put out the petition to list that Western Joshua tree in the first place, which is the center for biological diversity. We ended up talking to them a lot because they're very active in deserts of the Southwest, but they have an actual word similar to the kind that Patrick Donnelly described for us When we were talking about the Dixie valley toad. And the responses to that action alert will go to the fish and game commission
Alicia: and their action alerts are so easy to deal with. If you already signed up, you just, you get an email and you can click your way through and in less than two minutes. And you've done your part to put your name on that list.
Alicia: When, if you haven't signed up for the email, just going on their website, they have a whole area of action alerts that you can click on the ones you feel strongly about and throw your name on that list.
Chris: And CBD won't be the only organization that's putting out action alerts. I expect that there will be several others, including the one that I work for.
Chris: keep an eye on our show notes. We'll be mentioning this in upcoming episodes. We will be reminding you right up until the, the meeting where there's a vote, hoping to get a bunch of people there, but it's just really crucial. There's so much pressure from developers who don't want to pay extra for putting a new.
Chris: Strip mall or logistics center or solar power or whatever
Alicia: they know what's going on. And I just read a rather disheartening post today, a Facebook group for investors and developers, and I like to follow all sides of all subjects and see what everybody's. But they basically said this decision is coming up and you better cut your Josh, your trees down now while you still can and get it done before it gets, it becomes even harder.
Alicia: And I thought that was sad. There is push rushed. I'll just go ahead and cut them down before you have to deal with even more consequences. Why do people move here? That's what frustrates me the most about this whole conversation is that we look at different ecological situations and they've got iconic and.
Alicia: Plants or animals that represent the high desert from antelope valley and Victorville over here. Joshua tree. This whole area is known for the Joshua tree, big orange Jeep and Joshua tree. For me, that's what I think that they're the banner children of the cool desert icons. And it's like, you wouldn't go to Sedona and bulldoze the red rocks to flatten out a place to put your house.
Chris: I wouldn't be surprised if somebody who has actually done that
Alicia: , they do do that, but that's the conversation that we're having is why would you move somewhere and then change the very shape and face. Yeah, bet that happens. It's tough because we're appealing to people who love nature. And so for us, it's a no brainer.
Alicia: Yeah. Sign this thing, but it's a very large back and forth issue. There are a lot of people who do not give 2 cents about the Joshua trees. It's just another player in what's the big deal. It's not a big. And I feel like our podcast, if anything, if we could reach someone who can reach someone to just impart a little bit of care about subjects like this, we're winning because there are a lot of people just pay it, no attention whatsoever.
Alicia: And looking at the population of Joshua trees that we have. It's not an infinite resource. They're not thriving. They're slowly dwindling away.
Chris: The trees have so much That they have to contend with and we make it so hard for them. And this recommendation against listing is just, it's just such a slap in the face
Alicia: when you spend any significant amount of time walking alone in the desert.
Alicia: And that's an important caveat because when you're walking your dogs or you're with your friends, if there's any distraction whatsoever, it pulls you out of paying attention to how closely everything works together. And if you spend enough time walking alone, In the desert, looking at these symbiotic relationships, it really starts, the gravity starts to set in of how important these wild spaces are, where Joshua tree Woodlands can be in their natural order, not surrounded by concrete and asphalt.
Alicia: And that's why it's important to send your opinion on this matter, because. These trees are going away and they're an integral part of our desert and future generations. Not that far away, won't have the opportunity to walk amongst Joshua tree Woodlands there. They are in peril.
Chris: The thing that I keep coming back to is that it feels like a theft from our great grandchildren.
Chris: And I just, I really want them to be able to walk through a field of Joshua trees. Maybe they're not going to be any in Joshua tree national park in 2150. Maybe. Uh, I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. Maybe they'll be at the north end of death valley, but I want people to have that ability to go see these trees and to know that that we did what we could to make sure that they were still around.
Chris: And I feel like the agency that the state of California and trusts with our state's extraordinary natural diversity has just decided not to do his job,
Alicia: but we all know why money is very. In this whole equation and nobody's making any money by preserving Joshua trees. That's inhibiting people from making money.
Chris: I agree that it's development interests. They've been pushing back really hard. And to some extent it's climate change denialism to CFW, isn't denying the reality of climate change in the recommendation. At least not on the surface, but they are saying it's not that big a deal for the Joshua tree.
Alicia: It's one of those detrimental statements because it is a big deal.
Alicia: If we're going to have to recreate. The desert later because we've[caw]it up today. If we've got seed banks across the world where we know we're [caw]ing [caw] up. So we're just, we're going to tuck away seeds in a temperature controlled storage vault so that humanity can tap back into the things that we've lost.
Alicia: And that's a pretty sad mentality if that is the way we're going, but that's not where we want to be with Joshua trees. We don't want to have to pull seeds out of a cache and try and recreate. We should just try and protect what we have.
Chris: We'll have a lot more information on this in an episode that will come out sometime in may.
Chris: But in the meantime, if you want to do something before that, you can go to the efficient game commission's website fgc.ca.gov, and, uh, skulk around in there. And you will find ways that you can communicate with the fish and game commission, basically what we're trying to do. Get as many people to weigh in as possible and make them realize that they have a whole lot of people out there that will have their back.
Chris: If they go against what CDFW recommends. And if they decide to protect that the Western Joshua tree, after all that Californians and others who support protecting the Joshua tree will have their back. The four-Ps! polite, persistent public pressure. Well
Alicia: Get out and toot your digital horns ladies and gentlemen!
Chris: that's, what's going to save the Joshua trees at this point, despite the best efforts of the state of California to do nothing, looking at our show notes for this episode, it's time for people to care about the desert, to rally and defensive, one of the deserts icons.
Chris: And we don't have that much time.
Alicia: get your boxing gloves ready. let them know how you feel.
Bouse Parker: This episode of 90 miles from needles was produced by Alicia pike and Chris Clarke. Editing by Chris' podcast artwork by our good friend, Martin Mancha theme. Music is by Brightside studio, other music by slipstream. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram @90emiforneedles and on facebook at facebook.com/ninetymilesfromneedles.
Bouse Parker: Listen to email@example.com or wherever you get your podcasts. Don't forget to check our show notes for how you can help save the Western Joshua tree. Thanks to our newest Patreon supporter Kathleen Case support this podcast by visiting us at 90milesfromneedles.com/Patreon And making a monthly pledge of as little as five bucks.
Bouse Parker: Our Patreon supporters enjoy privileges, including access to this episode and an exclusive Joshua tree national park camp out in September, 2022 to stay tuned for info. Crucial support for this podcast came from Tad Coffin and Lara Rozzell. All characters on this podcast Always hear times when chariots hurry near.
Bouse Parker: And yonder all before us lie, deserts of vast eternity. This is Bouse Parker reminding you that desertification is a mindset that sees deserts as a problem to be corrected and not places to be protected. See you next time. ..