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.
“The record is voluminous with hearings, public comments, scientific findings, complex models, there is a lot to catch up on (for a new commissioner). And the weight of this decision is extraordinary, and the consequences are substantial,” Commission President Samantha Murray said.
The commission previously considered the issue at their June meeting, but failed to reach a majority decision at that time, instead reopening public comments specifically for additional tribal input.
JOSHUA – The California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended against designating the Joshua tree as a threatened species, on Wednesday, stating the “western Joshua tree is currently abundant and widespread.” Various groups including the City of Hesperia and the High Desert Association of Realtors, previously asked to remove the Joshua tree as a candidate for a threatened species.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in 2019 to “protect the trees from the threats of wildfires, development and climate change.” The commission granted temporary protection, making it the first time the California Endangered Species Act was used to shield a species primarily threatened by climate change.
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.
According to the commission’s report, “the Department does not have the data to determine the extent to which climate changes that are expected to occur in the foreseeable future are likely to affect western Joshua tree range within California within this timeframe.”
Although existing regulations are in place to protect the Joshua tree, the Center for Biological Diversity states that the measures have been ineffective.
The California Desert Native Plants Act, enacted in 1984, applies to several Southern California counties, including San Bernardino. The law states it protects certain local plants from “unlawful harvesting on both public and privately owned lands.”
In San Bernardino County, developers are required to relocate Joshua trees on site or apply for a permit for removal. To remove, the cost can range up to $4,175 for one tree.
Around 40% of the trees are on private land – including Victorville and Hesperia where state endangered-species laws would have taken effect.
Developments such as Silverwood – previously known as Tapestry in Hesperia, may have been stalled by the new law.
A final decision on the petition is expected in June.
To read the full California Department of Fish and Wildlife report visit https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/pdfs/Western_Joshua_Tree_Status_Review_2022-04-13.pdf