YUCCA VALLEY — The Hi-Desert Water District board of directors met Wednesday night and discussed the proposed listing of the Joshua tree as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.
The Hi-Desert Water District oppose the proposed new status, noting that the Joshua tree is already protected locally with both city and county ordinances. They also said that, if the listing was approved, it could deter people from building in the Morongo Basin because most undeveloped plots in the area have Joshua trees that developers will have to transplant or work around.
“What rubs me the wrong way is the state,” said Director Sheldon Hough. “They say there’s a mass housing shortage but now they’re doing everything possible to make it so we can’t build houses.”
Director Sarann Graham questioned the motive of the listing.
“In the back of my mind when I see something from the Center for Biological Diversity, I always think there’s someone behind it with a political agenda so that rubs me the wrong way,” she said.
The board directed staff to submit a letter detailing their opposition.
After word of the possible new listing came out, agencies across Joshua tree growing grounds were asked by county Supervisor Dawn Rowe to respond to the petition in a letter.
The Yucca Valley Town Council was first to respond, voting to oppose the proposed protections Tuesday.
Advocates say trees threatened on several frunts
Recent studies show that Joshua trees are dying off because of hotter, drier conditions, with very few younger trees becoming established. The trees are slow to grow and slow to reproduce.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to protect Joshua trees under the California Endangered Species Act on Oct. 15, 2019. This petition came after another petition to the federal government in 2015 by WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit from Denver Colorado. The federal petition was denied and has moved into a court case, but the Center for Biological Diversity hopes for a different outcome on the state level.
According to both groups the trees are threatened by climate change and habitat destruction from urban sprawl and other development in their Mojave Desert home.
“The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert,” said Brendan Cummings, the center’s conservation director and a Joshua Tree resident, in a press release.
“Joshua trees are uprooted or bulldozed on a daily basis to make way for roads, strip malls and vacation rentals right up to the borders of our national parks. If these beautiful plants are to have any hope of surviving the difficult decades ahead, we have to stop killing them.”
Their scientific sources say plant survival requires a convergence of events, from yucca moths fertilizing the flowers, to rodents burying the seeds, to seedlings emerging triggered by a late-summer rainfall.
A web of interconnected problems, including pollution, climate change and drought, could interrupt the Joshua tree life cycle at several points, according to the petition.
“California needs to ensure these spectacular trees remain part of our healthy desserts for decades to come,” Cummings said.
In April the California Department of Fish and Wildlife determined that there is sufficient scientific information in the Center for Biological Diversity petition to warrant action and recommended that the petition be accepted and considered. They recommend that the western Joshua Trees be listed as a threatened species.
The Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to make a formal determination at its June 24-25 meeting. If the commissioners determine the listing may be warranted, wildlife managers will review the status of the species and provide the commissioners with a peer-reviewed report before they make a final determination.