Joshua trees protected under the California Endangered Species Act in historic vote

By Mark Olalde

Published: September 22, 2020

In a likely precedent-setting decision, the California Fish and Game Commission on Tuesday voted 4-0 to approve the western Joshua tree for the next stage of protection under the California Endangered Species Act. This marks the first time the state law has been used to give protection to a species that is mainly threatened by climate change.

The species — one of two varieties of the iconic desert megaflora — is facing habitat loss due to warming temperatures that are pushing the ecosystems where it thrives farther north and into higher elevations. Scientists predict that Joshua Tree National Park could be devoid of its namesake plant by the end of the century.

The western Joshua tree now receives protection under the act for the next year as the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife studies whether the species is indeed at enough risk to need full listing as threatened. At the federal level, Joshua trees were denied protection under the Endangered Species Act, a decision that is being challenged in federal court by environmental group WildEarth Guardians.