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  • Writer's pictureSteve Brown

Join Mojave Watch in Calling for State Protection for our Iconic Joshua Trees

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

UPDATE: The consideration of the petition to list the western Joshua tree as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act has been continued until the California Fish and Wildlife Commission's August 20, 2020 meeting. Please submit your public comments (see below) prior to that date.

Your comments are exceptionally important as State Representative Chad Mayes has introduced AB 235 which would alter the fundamental basics of the California Endangered Species Act, from a science-based review of potentially endangered species to include economic impacts.

Original Story:

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended that the iconic western Joshua tree be protected as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The recommendation came after the department received a petition in October, 2019, from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) as endangered under CESA.

See our story HERE.

But there is active opposition to this new level of protection for our Joshua trees.

The Yucca Valley Town Council and Mayor Jeff Drozd have sent a letter to the California Fish and Wildlife Department opposing the listing of the western Joshua tree as endangered. Drozd and the Town of Yucca Valley have created and are using taxpayer funds to promote a petition opposing the listing. The Joshua Tree Gateway Association of Realtors has also taken a stand against the listing.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood also opposes the listing, which comes as no surprise. The Board of Supervisors regularly ignores the county's own protections for native plants in its decision-making.

From the Center for Biological Diversity:

In October the Center petitioned the state to protect western Joshua trees under the California Endangered Species Act. In June California’s Fish and Game Commission will decide whether to accept the department’s recommendation and grant these imperiled plants candidate status under state law.

A candidate designation triggers a yearlong review of whether the species should be formally protected under the state act. The species is legally protected during the review period.

Recent studies show Joshua trees are dying off because of hotter, drier conditions, with very few younger trees becoming established. Even greater changes are projected over the coming decades. Scientists earlier this year projected that the Joshua tree will be largely gone from its namesake national park by the end of the century.

Last year the Trump administration denied federal protection for the species.

“California needs to ensure these spectacular trees remain part of California’s landscape in perpetuity,” said Cummings. “The Trump administration has abdicated its responsibility to save Joshua trees and hundreds of other species threatened by climate change. The state must fill that void and lead efforts to ensure the Joshua tree’s survival.”

Climate change could wipe out western Joshua trees, which already are failing to reproduce at drier, lower elevations. Prolonged droughts are projected to be more frequent and intense over the coming decades, shrinking the species’ range and leading to more tree deaths. Higher elevations, where Joshua trees might survive increasing temperatures and drying conditions, are at risk of fire due to invasive non-native grasses.

The western Joshua tree is also threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Outside of Joshua Tree National Park, off-road vehicle use, cattle grazing, powerlines and pipelines and large-scale energy projects are destroying habitat. Approximately 40 percent of the western Joshua tree’s range in California is on private land, with only a tiny fraction protected from development. Current projections show that virtually all of this habitat will be lost without stronger legal protections for the trees.

“The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert,” said Cummings. “Joshua trees are uprooted or bulldozed on a daily basis to make way for roads, powerlines, strip malls and vacation rentals right up to the borders of our national parks. If these beautiful plants are to have any hope of surviving the difficult decades ahead, we have to stop killing them.”

The Joshua tree has recently been recognized as composed of two distinct species, the western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) and the eastern Joshua tree (Y. jaegeriana). The two species occupy different areas of the desert, are genetically and morphologically distinguishable, and have different pollinating moths.

The recommendation from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife addresses the western Joshua tree species. The western Joshua tree has a range stretching from Joshua Tree National Park westward along the northern slopes of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, through the Antelope Valley, northward along the eastern flanks of the southern Sierra Nevada and eastward to the edges of Death Valley National Park and into Nevada.

We are recommending that individuals concerned about the uncertain future of the western Joshua tree send an email letter of support for the listing of the tree under CESA. A sample letter you can copy and modify is below.

Comments must be received by (Revised date: August 20, 2020) June 13, 2020 for commission consideration.

Send comments to:

To: Eric Sklar, President, California Fish and Wildlife Commission

Dear President Sklar,

Today, I write to you in strong support for the Mojave Desert's iconic western Joshua tree, and in support of the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Mojave Desert's iconic Joshua trees face an uncertain future.  They are threatened by invasive species, drought, wildfires, grazing, off-roading, and habitat loss through development.  Climate change is threatening to leave Joshua Tree National Park without its namesake Joshua trees by the end of the century.

The California Department of Fish and Game has recommended western Joshua tree be considered for protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), after the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the state for the trees' protection.  A decision will be made soon whether the western Joshua tree can be designated as a formal candidate for protection, a step which would lead to a yearlong review of whether the western Joshua tree should be permanently protected under CESA.

Climate change and other threats could decimate the western Joshua trees, which are already failing to reproduce at drier, hotter elevations.  With approximately 40% of the western Joshua tree's range on private land, projections indicate all of this habitat could be lost in the coming years without CESA protection.  It is clear that the Mojave Desert's iconic western Joshua tree needs our support and protection.

I am writing to support the designation of western Joshua trees as a formal candidate for protection under CESA.

Thank you for your consideration.


Your Name


Please add your own thoughts to this letter, or craft your own. If you live in the Mojave Desert, please note that in your letter. If you'd like to share your letter with us, please cc:

Thank you for your support for the Mojave Desert's iconic Joshua trees!

More information:

Morongo Basin Conservation letter of support:

Other information:

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