Officials deadlock on threatened status for Joshua trees

After eight hours of intense debate, the California Fish and Game Commission on Thursday reached a 2 to 2 deadlock on whether to declare the western Joshua tree a threatened species, forcing further discussion on the issue. volatile affairs until November.

Biologists have advised against listing these species after concluding that claims made in a petition by environmentalists about the effects of climate change on living icons of the Southern California desert is premature.

They question the reliability of computer models that show the species is in decline across its entire range. They say that’s because although the number of Joshua tree species in the west has declined in certain parts of its historical range, in other areas the species numbers run into the millions.

But the petition filed by the Center for Biodiversity has divided the trustees, with two opposed to the staff’s recommendation and instead with conservationists concerned that without Special state protection, this species could lose 90% of its range by 2100.

Among those opposed is Samantha Murray, chair of the committee, who worries that the western Joshua tree “might have been significantly reduced or functionally extinct in some areas south of the range.” its history”.

“So for me, there’s not much certainty about the future of western Joshua trees,” she said.

Unable to continue the matter, the panel voted unanimously to reopen the discussion at its November meeting, leaving temporary safeguards in place for shortlisted candidates for until definitive action is taken.

It also asked Chuck Bonham, director of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, to prepare a report on the viability of developing a broad-based conservation plan for the species that would include includes input from stakeholders including conservationists, legislators, tribal leaders, property. owners, renewable energy companies, labor organizations and the construction industry.

But critics say the panel’s inability to act on the petition filed more than a year and a half ago is a failure of the state’s environmental law process.

Brendan Cummings, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity and co-author of the petition, said: “It is extremely disappointing that top California officials talk about being geologists. leadership when it comes to climate change. make a decision that could help solve the problem, they falter.

“That behavior is what created the climate crisis we are grappling with today,” he said.

Voting against listing the species would leave its fate up to local jurisdictions across thousands of acres of desert real estate.

Nearly half of the western Joshua tree range is on private land including the rapidly growing communities of Palmdale, Lancaster, Hesperia, Victorville and Yucca Valley.

Many residents and policy makers in those communities describe the petition as overkill because species scientists know it Yucca brevifolia protected in many city and county native vegetation ordinances, and in the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park. They added that listing species would hinder job creation and growth.

Cummings argues that opponents miss points.

“We could be seeing a large-scale death event right now,” he said. “However, the situation descriptor is relatively small.”

The western Joshua tree is one of two genetically distinct species in California. It has a boomerang-shaped strip that extends west from Joshua Tree National Park to the northern slopes of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, then north along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada and then east. to the edge of Death Valley National Park.

The Joshua Trees east in California are the heart of the Mojave National Reserve and eastward into Nevada. There are approximately 1 million eastern Joshua trees burned by the 2020 Dome Fire in the reserve.

The fate of the western species, which grows about 40 feet tall and lives about 200 years, is most in doubt.

The flowers, roots, inner chambers, and angular branches of the plant sustain the richness and diversity of desert life: yucca moths, lynxes, desert night lizards, kangaroo rats and 20 species of birds, including Scott’s golden bird, the step-backed woodpecker and the great-horned owl.

But drought, heat, drier summers, wildfires and growth are taking a toll on trees and the species they support. Some stands have not spawned young Joshua trees in decades.

The low reproductive rate of the western Joshua tree may have prevented it from expanding quickly enough into cooler and wetter habitats, the scientists say. The ability of the tree to move about a few hundred yards a generation.

In a separate matter, the trustees agreed to make Temblor the legless lizard a candidate for endangered species listing – a move intended to provide the reptiles legal protection. swim in the sand for at least a year.

Oil and other chemical pollutants are rampant in the shrinking legless area of ​​the southern San Joaquin Valley, where there are an estimated 31 overlapping oil fields. according to a listing request submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It warms my heart that these rare and fascinating lizards will be safe to burrow, hunt and breed, protected,” said Shaye Wolf, the center’s director of climate science. protected from drilling for oil contaminating the home it has evolved over millennia.” Officials deadlock on threatened status for Joshua trees

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