Sacramento, California. (AP) – California does not currently list the western Joshua tree as a endangered species, as the four-member Fish and Game Commission failed to reach an agreement on how to protect the plant from climate change.
Following a stalemate over whether to list species under California’s endangered species law, commissioners decided in October to reconsider. At this point, they voted to get more feedback from the tribes and ordered the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work on a conservation plan for the species.
The desert plant is best known for its unique form, with spiky leaves at the ends of its branches, in a national park 130 miles (209 km) east of Los Angeles and extending into the desert until death. Valley National Park. There are two types of trees, considered east and west, but only west.
If the tree is listed as an endangered species, special permission from the state is required to kill one. Joshua trees can make it difficult to get approval for homes, solar panels or other development projects on high land. The trees are now under conditional protection but the state will decide whether or not to consider them as a threat, although some solar development projects have yet to be cleared to move forward.
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The center petitioned in 2019 to list the western Joshua tree as a threat, saying that extreme periods of drought caused by hot temperatures and climate change would make it harder for the species to survive by the end of the century. It has also been argued that wildfires and development threats can impair the survival and reproductive capacity of trees.
The California Department of Fish & Wildlife reports that by 2100, areas suitable for western Joshua tree growth are likely to decline due to climate change. But the tree remained “abundant and widespread” in the April report, which reduced the risk. Extinction. The staff recommended not listing the species.
Commissioners have widely acknowledged that hot temperatures and severe droughts caused by climate change could put species at risk in the coming decades. But they are divided over whether endangered species law is the best way to address those concerns. Brendan Cummings, director of conservation at the Center for Biological Diversity Conservation, said the state has never listed endangered species, mainly based on threats from climate change.
Commissioner Eric Schler said the law, which was drafted almost 50 years ago, may not be the best tool to combat the effects of climate change.
“Listing in any way does not guarantee survival,” Schlar said. “Defending one race at a time feels like we’re fiddling with Rome burning according to the way we’re doing.”
He urged the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to work on a conservation plan. He said the legislature and governors should come together to create a plan to protect the species together with everyone involved in the future of trees, including environmentalists, tribals and developers.
But Commission President Samantha Murray said listing the species would not completely end housing development or renewable energy projects. She voted to list endangered species, such as Vice President Erica Javaleta.
“Listing does not mean that there are no houses and no renewable energy projects. That fact must be taken into account. ”
It is not known how many Joshua trees there are in the state, but it could range from 4.8 million to 9.8 million, said Jeb McKay Bjerke of the Fish & Wildlife Department.
40% of Joshua trees in the state are on private land. The commission will hear from hundreds of public commentators on Wednesday. Some local and state politicians and union workers said listing species as a threat would make it harder to move forward with necessary projects, including one aimed at combating climate change by increasing renewable energy.
California sets the requirement to generate 100% of electricity from non-carbon sources by 2045.
San Bernardino County, which owns Joshua Tree National Park, recently increased fines for illegally removing Joshua trees – a $ 20,000 fine for the third offense and up to six months in prison. The county is a major site for solar energy development.
But many other speakers argue that the state does not have time to list species as a threat, as the state faces warmer temperatures and more severe droughts and fires, all of which can damage trees. Kelly Herbinson, executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said Joshua trees are the “keystone” species of the desert, while other species depend on it for their survival.
“Climate change is a threat we still face and I’m getting to know the best way forward, but it’s happening and it’s happening now,” she told the commission.
In 2019, the federal government refused to list the tree as a protected species.