California undecided on whether to list Joshua tree as threatened species

Listing the Joshua tree as a threatened species could start an avalanche of lawsuits.
TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (KABC) -- What would Joshua Tree National Park be without Joshua trees? Some scientists say this may be a distinct possibility due to climate change.

"They're projecting with high likelihood that the population is going to zero in most of California's western Joshua tree range by 2100," said Erika Zavaleta, a member on the California Fish and Game Commission. "We've been told for decades that climate change would be expensive and consequential. I kind of hate that this is where we find ourselves, but that is where we are."

The California Fish and Game Commission is considering listing the Joshua tree as a threatened species, to give it more protection. For the time being, the board voted to postpone its decision to a meeting later this year.

Listing the Joshua tree as a threatened species could start an avalanche of lawsuits. Not only could it potentially jeopardize large-scale solar farms from being built across the Mojave Desert, but because an estimated 40% of Joshua trees are on private property, it could impact the rights of those property owners.

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Even though Joshua Trees might appear healthy, you can't quite judge a book by its cover.

"Listen, we're going to get sued no matter what we do here," said Eric Sklar, another commissioner. "If we list [the Joshua tree as a threatened species] we're going to get sued, and if we don't list it, we're going get sued."

In the end, the four commissioners were split on whether to immediately list the Joshua tree as a threatened species.

"I respect the science. I respect the peer reviews," said commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin. "I just think we're missing the larger picture, and I can't support listing [the Joshua tree] as threatened today."

The board eventually voted unanimously to continue the discussion at a meeting in October.

Members approved a motion to not only continue reaching out to local Indian tribes for input, but to direct the Department of Fish and Game to come up with a proposal for a range-wide Joshua tree recovery and protection plan.

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