Should Joshua Trees Be Designated Endangered in California?

The state of California is considering whether to formally designate southern California’s iconic Joshua Tree as an endangered species, and it seems that local developers and businesses, including the renewable power industry, are pushing back and expressing concerns.  The California Fish and Game Commission put off a decision last week on whether to study whether the famed tree is endangered, saying they needed more time to look at the issue.  Louis Sahagan reports for the Los Angeles Times that an eleventh-hour push by wind and solar energy companies, in particular, forced the delay of the decision on the endangered species petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Why This Matters:  Clashes like this between conservationists and the renewable energy industry are bound to increase.  We have already seen it happen with respect to solar arrays and clear-cutting in the eastern U.S.  California’s renewable energy goals are rightly ambitious and its law protecting endangered species is also quite strong. The truth is we need both — to develop much more renewable energy and to save nature, particularly endangered species, because our own health depends on a healthy environment and fighting climate change.  We will need to find ways to reconcile these competing environmental interests.  Our future depends on it.

The Joshua Tree Backers

The issue is only at the preliminary stage now — if the California Fish and Game Department accepts the petition, then they will study whether to protect the Joshua Tree.  While it is in the study process, the Joshua Tree would be protected. If it is ultimately designated as endangered, that would permanently protect the trees that grow on private lands — about 40% of the tree’s range is on private property.  According to The LA Times, “supporters of the petition include U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and environmental organizations led by Sierra Club California, Hispanic Access Foundation, Vet Voice Foundation, the National Parks Conservation Assn. and Native American Land Conservancy.”

Feinstein told the Fish and Game Commission that the “Joshua trees embody the spirit of the California desert, and it is crucial that we preserve their unique, iconic beauty for future generations and for the health of fragile desert ecosystems.”

On the Other Side

According to The Guardian,  the nearby town of Yucca Valley’s city council, water district and mayor have all come out strongly in opposition to even considering the tree for designation. The county and Yucca Valley submitted a joint legal brief to the Fish and Game Commission stating they “strongly oppose” the petition — they point to a lack of evidence that Joshua trees are threatened and claim that “population levels have remained stable or potentially increased over the past 50 years.” They also claim that the point of renewable energy is to fight climate change and that will help the Joshua Tree. But the Center for Biological Diversity explains that they “agree that climate change is a threat to Joshua trees and that we need to shift to clean energy as fast as possible,” and they suggest that the “fallowed farmlands in the Central Valley,” would be better than “on top of Joshua tree woodlands.”

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