A portion of the 49 Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park has been closed off to humans to allow animals to hit the trail in search of water.
The closure comes in an effort to protect the park's population of 50 big horn sheep that drink from the trail's oasis. The sheep call the area between Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms home, and human interaction often scares off the parched animals, Smith said.
"I had to weigh the decision: Do we provide continual public access to that, or do we protect that population of animals? And we chose the latter right now," Smith said.
The 1-mile closure has been in effect for three weeks. So long as Southern California goes without significant rainfall, Smith said this portion of the 49 Palms Oasis Trail will stay closed. No other trail closures are planned at this time.
While the big horn sheep are the park's main concern, Smith said mountain lions are also in seeking out water. Smith doesn't expect that the increase of thirsty animals would impact Joshua Tree campers, but fire conditions could.
Death Valley and Mojave national parks are seeing similar issues, but there are currently no trail closures at those parks.
Mojave's smaller tally of visitors and Death Valley's larger selection of water springs help mitigate the drought's affects on animals there. Still, Smith said these are examples of parks that could consider closures in the future.
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