JOSHUA TREE (CBSLA) — California Fish And Game Commission put off for a second time the decision of whether to list the iconic Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species after thousands of comments poured in for and against its protection.
The Joshua tree is a Mojave Desert native that can live for hundreds of years, but it is threatened by climate change. The species, said to have been named by Mormon settlers for how its branches reach up to the sky like the biblical Joshua in prayer, has not been known to be able to grow outside the reaches of the Mojave Desert.
A petition was submitted last year by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species. A staff summary of the commission's meeting discussion this week said that more than 5,000 comments regarding the potential listing had been submitted.
Several local municipalities and lawmakers – including Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Tom McClintock, Ken Calvert and Devin Nunes – opposed the listing because they say the species is not at imminent risk of extinction and is adequately protected by existing law, while others argued listing would be redundant of existing protections. Those opposed to listing the Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species included several solar and wind energy groups.
But the vast majority of comments argued for the Joshua tree to be protected because of threats from development, climate change, drought, wildfire and its importance to the overall ecosystem and tourist economy of the Mojave Desert. Several comments pointed out that even with current laws, local governments are not properly protecting the trees.
"The commissioners all indicated that they believe Joshua trees meet the legal standard for protection, so we're confident the trees will ultimately receive the safeguards they need," Brendan Cummings, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "This species can be a model for climate adaption planning, rather than a symbol of our utter failure to address climate change."
The status of the Joshua tree will be considered again at the commission's next meeting in September.
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