Stewardship at Joshua Tree National Park

Stewardship is the intersection between three key principles: Understand, Assess, and Apply. These principles are an approach to applying resource management. Imagine being in charge of all resources (cultural, wildlife, vegetation, and physical sciences) in an area of nearly 800 thousand acres that is all of Joshua Tree National Park. That person here at Joshua Tree National Park, Jane Rodgers, is nothing short of amazing. Here’s what she taught me: First, you must understand what lies within your boundaries. Here we have a park full of historical artifacts (native artifacts, mines, and rancher artifacts) that spell out a rich history of the area. The Sonoran desert is the world’s most diverse desert in terms of plant life, supporting a surprising amount of wildlife. Desert oases are scattered throughout the park, hinting at the origin of the name 29 palms, the town hugging the northern side of the park and where I’ve called home for the past two months. Next, assess what you’ve understood to be within your boundary. It may be difficult to check in with every rock, every living plant or animal species, so instead maybe you pick an indicator species or specific representative areas within the park. Are birds nesting? Are plants reproducing? How has rainfall changed in different areas of the park? Are artifacts being preserved? Use strategic science such as climate change studies, visitor use studies, and long term monitoring of resources to continually assess the state of resources within the park. Once that is done you can apply management strategies such as the preservation of historic artifacts (signs around pictographs and closing mines), and restoration of natural habitats (replanting over social trails). Managing a natural area such as a park or refuge has always peaked my interest and hearing Jane speak about how she does it for such an expansive, diverse, and popular area really changed my perspective on stewardship and what I want my role to be in conservation. I’d be lucky to do anything as great as what goes on here at Joshua Tree!

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