A proposal to protect the western Joshua tree under California’s Endangered Species Act was stalled Thursday after the state’s Fish and Game Commission deadlocked in a 2-2 vote on the matter.
The panel then took a second vote to place the proposal on the October agenda, and that passed 4-0.
The trees will be temporarily protected until then, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the commission to grant the trees permanent protection, citing studies that said Joshua trees were dying off due to hotter and drier conditions.
“The science is clear. This should’ve been a unanimous vote,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s conservation director, Brendan Cummings, who lives in the city of Joshua Tree.
“We’re running out of time to save these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem. This decision is a litmus test for how seriously California is taking climate change.”
The commission held a two-day meeting to hear public comments and discuss the decision. More than 1,700 written public comments were submitted — the majority in support of permanent protection, while 250 were opposed, according to the Desert Sun.
The protected status is opposed by real estate developers, solar energy developers, construction unions, chambers of commerce and officials who represent desert cities. They argue that the tree is abundant and that protecting it would inhibit renewable energy and housing development, the newspaper reported.
The Center for Biological Diversity had filed a petition to list the trees under the Endangered Species Act in 2019. The following year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the trees temporary protected status as it conducted a study. The department recommended against permanent protection in April.
The Center for Biological Diversity says that about 40% of Joshua trees in California are on private land. Through development and climate change, the group worries that all of the trees will vanish.
“Developers and local officials seem indifferent to killing off one of the main reasons people come to the Mojave Desert, but the state can put a stop to this reckless bulldozing,” Cummings said. “If commissioners ultimately fail to protect these fragile trees, they’ll also be abandoning the communities and livelihoods that rely on them.”