YUCCA VALLEY — The Yucca Valley Town Council does not support the classification of Joshua trees as a threatened species by state officials.
Mayor Jeff Drozd and the council agreed Tuesday to send a letter to the California Fish and Wildlife Department to voice their opposition to adding Joshua trees as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.
“All of us care about the Joshua trees a lot,” Drozd said. “We’re just adding more red tape and cost. This definitely needs to be re-worked.”
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended last month that western Joshua trees move toward protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The action came in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.
The council voted 5-0 to send a letter to state officials opposing the classification.
Joshua trees have been described by the National Parks Service as “twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.” They are a cherished symbol of the Mojave Desert and are found across several million acres in four states: California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
Councilman Rick Denison said the first time he saw a Joshua tree he thought it was the “ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Denison, originally from Orange County, says he now loves Joshua trees and their unique beauty, but said listing them as threatened is “unacceptable.”
“It’s a blanket order for the whole state of California,” Denison said.
Council members unanimously shared the opinion that Joshua trees are already protected under the town’s native plant ordinance. They also said it would skyrocket the costs involved in future building and development.
Councilman Merl Abel said Joshua trees already have a lot of protection.
“I think we already have some wonderful safeguards to protect the Joshua trees,” Abel said.
Councilmen Jim Schooler and Robert Lombardo agreed.
“It will just add extreme burden to our town without any real benefit to the Joshua trees,” Lombardo said.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the state in October to protect western Joshua trees under the California Endangered Species Act.
Commissioners with the Fish and Wildlife Department are scheduled to discuss the trees’ protected status at their June 24-25 meeting. If they determine that listing may be warranted, Fish and Wildlife managers will review the status of the species and provide the commission with a written, peer-reviewed report before they make a final determination.
Current law protects the trees from being harvested for anything other than educational uses and bars them from being removed from properties without permits.
Monica Zimarik, president of the Joshua Tree Gateway Association of Realtors, spoke at the Tuesday council meeting.
“This petition would strip away the rights of owners,” Zimarik said.
Art Miller, a realtor and Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce board director, agreed.
“This is going to be devastating for this whole area,” Miller said.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the iconic trees are threatened by climate change and habitat destruction from urban sprawl and other development in their Mojave Desert home, in a press release last month.
“We’re elated that Joshua trees are a step closer to protection,” said Brendan Cummings, the center’s conservation director and a Joshua Tree resident. “These beautiful trees face huge threats that could drive them extinct in the wild. We urge the state to finalize these protections quickly so Joshua trees can survive and thrive in California for generations to come.”
Approximately 40 percent of the western Joshua tree’s range in California is on private land, with only a fraction protected from development. Current projections show that virtually all of this habitat will be lost without stronger legal protections for the trees.
“The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert,” said Cummings. “Joshua trees are uprooted or bulldozed on a daily basis to make way for roads, power lines, 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.”
WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit from Denver, Colorado, tried to add Joshua trees as federal endangered species in 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied the petition last year.