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Aerial imagery reveals massive die-off of Arizona’s junipers

Round juniper trees are scattered over a grassland under a blue sky, some green, others yellow or brown.
Kaibab National Forest
Dead and dying juniper trees

Scientists used aerial imagery from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map pinyon-juniper forests over nearly 2 million acres in northern Arizona, including Grand Canyon National Park and Flagstaff-area national monuments.

Forty-three percent of areas classified as alive in 2015, were dead or dying in 2021. Wupatki National Monument saw a tree mortality of 47%.

The project’s investigators say more research is needed to pinpoint the causes of the die-off, including longer-term monitoring to see the effects of climate. The Southwest is in the midst of a decades-long drought and experiencing warmer temperatures from global climate change.

Junipers are typically drought-tolerant trees. Federal land managers began to raise concerns about the widespread die-off last year.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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