Court upholds protections for Joshua trees

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joshua tree

10/17/2022 UPDATE: The California Fish and Game Commission decided to delay their decision on whether to list the western Joshua tree as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act until February, citing the need for additional tribal consultation and deliberation time.

FRESNO COUNTY – Fresno County Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan issued an order, Wednesday, denying a request from various groups including the City of Hesperia, and the High Desert Association of Realtors to remove the western Joshua tree as candidate for California Endangered Species. State authorities granted temporary protection for the trees “primarily threatened by climate change” although developers, trying to meet the needs of fast growing populations in the High Desert, maintain it will be more difficult to get approval for projects that require clearing the trees from the land if a permanent protection is granted.

In September 2020, the California Fish and Game commission voted to make western Joshua trees a candidate for listing as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) until a status review is conducted this April. The commission will later make a final decision about whether to permanently protect the trees. 

The temporary protection decision was in response to a 2019 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to protect the trees from the threats of wildfires, development and climate change. The commission’s September decision was the first time the California Endangered Species Act was used to shield a species primarily threatened by climate change. 

The trees are mostly found on private land and developers are looking to meet the needs of the growing High Desert region cities – the 2020 census showed that Hesperia and Victorville grew in population by 10.7% and 16.3% compared to 2010.

The city of Hesperia and real estate trade groups did not challenge whether Joshua trees should be protected, but instead argued that the original petition to protect the species didn’t meet the minimum requirements outlined under the law.

“The Commission’s September 22, 2020, decision, by unlawfully granting immediate CESA protections to the western Joshua tree, jeopardizes, among other things, Petitioners’ ability to manage and operate their properties and businesses, to produce building materials essential to the state’s infrastructure and economic vitality, and to continue to provide jobs and economic investment in some of the most challenged regions of the state,” states the petition from the trade groups and City of Hesperia. 

Judge Kapetan determined that the information in the administrative record “is sufficient for a reasonable person to find that there is a substantial possibility that the Joshua tree could be listed after further Department review.” 

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “If the western Joshua tree wins permanent protection under the California Endangered Species Act, state and local agencies will have to manage threats to them, including developing a recovery plan outlining a strategy to protect the species in the face of climate change and other threats.”

For more information on Joshua tree protection status visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/News/tag/joshua-tree to sign up for newsletter updates.

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