LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — In a unanimous 4-0 vote, the California Fish and Game Commission agreed to list the iconic western Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species for at least a year.
The commission, which voted Tuesday, determined that the tree's listing under the California Endangered Species Act may be warranted. The decision immediately lists the Joshua tree as a protected species and commences a one-year status review. At the end of that review, the commission will make a final decision on the Joshua tree's status as a threatened or endangered species.
The Center for Biological Diversity had submitted a petition last year, asking the state to protect the Joshua tree, which they say is threatened by climate change, fire and habitat destruction from urban sprawl and other development in the Mojave Desert. The commission had put off the decision twice due to a huge volume of public comments for and against protecting the tree.
"This is a huge victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem," Brendan Cummings, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity and a Joshua Tree resident, said in a statement. "If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we're giving them, the first and most important thing we can do is protect their habitat."
However, in the same meeting, the commission also agreed to authorize the developers of 15 solar energy projects that are expected to break ground within the year to kill Joshua trees. In exchange, those developers will be required pay about $10,000 for every acre of destroyed habitat into a state fund that will be used to purchase and permanently preserve Joshua tree habitat.
The Center Biological Diversity says they disagreed with the deal, but understand the commission's decision.
"The best places to put solar panels are on rooftops, parking lots and degraded farmland, not pristine desert habitats," Cummings said.
There are two species of Joshua trees, and Tuesday's vote is specific to the western species. The western Joshua tree's habitat stretches from Joshua Tree National Park to the edge of Death Valley National Park and into Nevada.
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