California won’t list the iconic Western Joshua tree as an endangered species just yet after a four-member Fish and Game Commission couldn’t reach an agreement on how best to protect the plant of climate change.
After an impasse over whether to list the species under the California Endangered Species Act, commissioners decided to reconsider in October.
In the meantime, they voted to get more input from the tribes and asked the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work on a conservation plan for the species.
The desert plant known for its unique appearance, with spiky leaves at the end of its branches, is found in the national park that bears its name about 209 km east of Los Angeles and across a stretch of desert to at Death Valley National Park. There are two types of trees, east and west, but only west is to be considered.
If the tree is listed as an endangered species, killing one would require special permission from the state. This would make it more difficult to cut down trees to make way for housing, solar fields or other development projects. The trees are now under conditional protection while the state decides to consider them endangered, although some solar development projects have still been allowed to go ahead.
The Center for Biological Diversity in 2019 called for the Western Joshua tree to be listed as threatened, saying warmer temperatures and more intense droughts fueled by climate change will make it harder for the species to survive until recently. at the end of the century. He also argued that wildfires and development threats are harming the ability of trees to live and reproduce.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said areas suitable for Joshua tree growth in the west are likely to decline due to climate change by 2100. But it said in a report by April that the tree remained “abundant and widespread,” reducing the risk of extinction. Staff recommended not listing the species.
Commissioners largely agreed that climate change would put the species at risk over the coming decades. But they were divided on whether the Endangered Species Act was the best way to address those concerns.
It’s unclear how many Joshua trees exist in the state, but it could be between 4.8 million and 9.8 million, said Jeb McKay Bjerke of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
About 40% of the state’s Joshua trees are on private land. Some local and state politicians and union workers said Wednesday that listing the species as threatened would make it harder to advance needed projects, including those aimed at tackling climate change by boosting renewable energy. California has set a requirement that 100% of its electricity must be generated from non-carbon sources by 2045.
San Bernardino County, where many Joshua trees grow, is also a prime location for solar development. The county recently increased the penalties for illegally removing Joshua trees – a $20,000 fine and six months in jail for the third offense.
Some of the Joshua tree growth areas that show the most promise for surviving despite the effects of climate change are on private land, said Brendan Cummings, director of conservation for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Joshua trees are already not reproducing as fast as they once were and some research shows that by the middle of the next decade it will be very difficult for some young Joshua trees to survive, he said. Listing species as threatened would help create plans to protect them in key areas.
“The goal is not that no Joshua tree can be removed,” he said.
“The goal is that if we want to save the Joshua trees, we need to map and protect the areas where they are most likely to survive.”