Drought-stricken Joshua Tree closes trail to hikers to save thirsty bighorn sheep

·2 min read

It’s so dry at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California that a trail has been shut down to make sure bighorn sheep have access to water.

Thirsty bighorn sheep need surface water to survive. As the drought becomes more extreme in Joshua Tree, herds have relied more on a spring near 49 Palms Trail.

“The park is under extreme drought conditions and herds in the area are increasingly reliant on the oasis spring to survive the hot summer months,” park officials said.

To help make sure the bighorn sheep have the access to water they need, park officials are shutting down the 49 Palms Trail to all tourists.

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It won’t reopen until summer monsoons provide enough rainfall to create other sources of water for the bighorn sheep.

Wildlife biologists plan to monitor the bighorn sheep.

“Thank you for watching out for the sheep and the other animals that rely on that water source,” one person said on Facebook. “We can just drink from a faucet and eat fruitloops.”

Hundreds of bighorn sheep live in Joshua Tree National Park. They prefer a steep, rocky terrain, and need water to survive.

“Water is critical to bighorn survival. In early spring of years with good winter rains they get enough water from the grass they eat to go without drinking,” Joshua Tree officials said. “At other times they must trek to a spring or water-holding depression at least every third day.”

The heat and drought in Joshua Tree could continue to get worse.

More than 85% of California is experiencing extreme drought conditions, and more than a third of the state is experiencing exceptional drought, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

In Joshua Tree, officials warned that a heat wave is coming, and extreme heat is expected starting Monday.

The park gets extremely hot, and trails can reach over 120 degrees in the shade. Hikers can experience heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hyponatremia and even die while in Joshua Tree.

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