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Guardians of the mojave

Guardians of the mojave

Apr 19, 2019


How a group of conservationists work to protect the desert

Emmalyn Snead and Marinna Wagner of the Mojave Desert Land Trust are, in a sense, regrowing the Mojave. Armed with shovels and trowels, they work toward MDLT’s mission of protecting the land by conserving native plants and restoring damaged ecosystems. Since forming in 2006, MDLT has preserved over 70,000 acres of desert, forever linking National Parks and wilderness corridors and making sure the land is adequately protected. Many of the acres they’ve restored are now officially part of Joshua Tree National Park. On our visit to the park this February, we spent a few days with Emmalyn and Marinna to learn more about what it means to care for a desert.

The job comes naturally to these two. When asked what they love about the area, Emmalyn and Marinna both bring up the diversity of the landscape. And while at first glance, the Mojave may not look like a place thriving with colors and wildlife, the proof is in the smaller details: the miniscule flowers you’ll find nowhere else, the alkaline springs, the roaming desert tortoise.

“The biodiversity of the Mojave continues to excite me. There is always something new to discover,” says Marinna.

Marinna’s the green thumb behind MDLT’s Nursery and Seed Bank, which includes a 1,800-square foot greenhouse, a 6,000-square foot shade house and 1,500-square feet of growing area for seed-increase production. These operations provide the genetically appropriate plants for regional restoration projects. Last year, MDLT grew more than 10,000 plants for the Wind Wolves Preserve, including thousands of stinging nettle, a vital nesting plant for the tricolored blackbird.

After touring the greenhouse, we took a walk in the field to check out one of Emmalyn’s ongoing projects: vertical mulching. An effective method of restoring arid lands, this involves gathering local organic material and dead vegetation to plant in holes dug into denuded areas. MDLT uses this tactic to restore desert habitat that has been degraded by illegal OHV use and at the same time reduce the amount of vehicle traffic throughout the habitat. It’s crucial in a place like Joshua Tree, which has seen an alarming uptick in recreational visitors, off-trail footpaths and illegal traffic.

“Lack of rainfall and aridity make desert ecosystems some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world,” says Emmalyn.

One of the reasons these ecosystems have such a hard time recovering from increased tourism is because vegetation species are slow to establish and do not reproduce quickly. So, when visiting, take all the photos you’d like, but make sure to stay on the designated trails to avoid trampling.

  • The California deserts are home to over 2,000 native plants, many of which are considered to be in danger.
  • Despite its extreme climate, the Mojave Desert is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the US.
  • The Mojave Desert includes three National Parks: Death Valley, Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve.
  • More than 600 animals inhabit the Mojave.
  • 25% of the plant species in the Mojave are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world; one of these is the Joshua Tree.

Wondering what you can do to help protect the Mojave?
Sign up for our nearby Huntington Beach cleanup or volunteer with MDLT!