California Asked to Protect Joshua Trees as Threatened Species

Joshua Tree National Park.

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Between climate change and the Trump administration’s denial of federal protection this year, things look bleak for the iconic Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert. That’s why an environmental advocacy group on Tuesday asked California to step in and shield the species under state law.

Research indicates the future for the Joshua tree is grim, given its susceptibility to shifts in climate and the relentless urban sprawl eating away at the undeveloped wilderness the species calls home.

Tuesday’s petition by the Center for Biological Diversity seeks to list the western species of the Joshua tree as threatened, which would require state and local agencies to mitigate harm to the species’ habitat and slow down the destruction of undeveloped land.

The California Endangered Species Act also mandates a recovery plan for the trees, according to conservation director Brendan Cummings with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If we don’t address climate change, we lose the species,” said Cummings in an interview. “But part of the goal of the petition is to instigate better management of Joshua trees on private lands.”

The Joshua tree would be the first species to receive protection because of the threat of climate change in California, Cummings said.

In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would review the Joshua tree for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. This past August, however, the Trump administration announced the review or status was not warranted.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 47 that was passed this year and signed by the president designated 4,500 acres of Bureau of Land Management land as part of Joshua Tree National Park. But Cummings said while that’s good news, it’s less than 1% of Joshua tree habitat.

The Joshua tree was identified as one species until recently, when botanists determined there are two distinct species. The petition seeks to address the species in the national park westward toward the northern slopes of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, through the Antelope Valley, north toward the southern Sierra Nevada and east to the edges of Death Valley National Park and into Nevada.

The center filed its petition with the California Fish and Game Commission.

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