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Wildlife group highlights 24 Arizona species threatened by climate change

A desert tortoise prowls an enclosure at the Phoenix Herpetological Society’s reptile sanctuary in Scottsdale. An environmental group says the creature, which has evolved to take the worst the desert can throw at it, is endangered by climate change. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Greg Lindsay)

A desert tortoise prowls an enclosure at the Phoenix Herpetological Society’s reptile sanctuary in Scottsdale. An environmental group says the creature, which has evolved to take the worst the desert can throw at it, is endangered by climate change. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Greg Lindsay)

The desert tortoise thrives in intense heat and can go a year without water, but it’s among the species threatened by climate change, an wildlife group says.

Looking toward events Oct. 24 calling attention to carbon emissions and their role in warming the planet, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity released a report highlighting 350 animal and plant species it says could vanish due to climate change. Of those, 24 are Arizona locals.

The number 350 comes from 350 parts per million, which many scientists and interest groups say is the upper safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The International Day of Climate Action has a goal of getting nations to agree to reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide to that level by 2020 by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The center said the desert tortoise would be harmed by changes in the vegetation it relies on for food as well as stress from drought, heat, fire and other problems created by warming temperatures.

“Many of the species on our list would be put at risk due to increasing weather conditions,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the center.

Other Arizona species on the list are the Sonoran pronghorn antelope, the Mexican gray wolf, the desert nesting bald eagle, the southwestern willow flycatcher and several fish species native to the Gila River basin. Drought was the main reason listed for the species facing harm from climate change.

Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, said the Southwest will feel the effects of global warming more severely than other parts of the country.

“It’s likely to be hotter, it’s likely to be drier and the rainfall patterns are likely to shift,” she said.

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