Newsom introduced a bill to protect the Joshua tree in California

Joshua tree found along Highway 178 (Isabella Walker Pass Road next to Highway 14) viewed November 14, 2022 near Inyokern, California.

George Rose | Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week first proposed a bill that would protect the western Joshua tree, a native desert plant, and prohibit anyone from importing, exporting, selling or removing the species without state permission.

The legislation called West Joshua Tree Conservation Actcame after the California Fish and Game Commission failed to respond to a 2019 petition seeking to list the tree as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

On Wednesday, the commission voted unanimously to delay a decision on the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition until Newsom’s bill is approved or rejected by the Legislature.

Rising development and climate-related events such as drought and wildfires threaten the western Joshua tree, an iconic and ecologically important species native to the state’s desert region. Recent studies show that Joshua trees are dying off due to hotter, drier conditions, and without government protection, Joshua Tree could disappear by the end of the century.

However, opponents of the petition argued that listing the trees as endangered could harm private property development and renewable energy projects planned in the area. Approximately half of California’s western range of the Joshua tree is on private land, and much of the habitat is currently unprotected from development.

The bill would require the department to prepare a conservation plan by the end of next year, periodic reviews to confirm the effectiveness of the plan, and consultation with affected Indian tribes.

The department said that because the tree is so widespread in the public and private desert region, the permitting process for the species is more complex than for any species currently listed under California’s Endangered Species Act.

Brendan Cummings, director of conservation for the Center for Biological Diversity and resident of Joshua Tree, called the trees “an indispensable and endangered part of California’s natural heritage.”

“We are pleased that the Newsom administration recognizes their importance and has proposed groundbreaking legislation to ensure that these remarkable trees will forever remain part of California’s Mojave Desert landscape,” Cummings said in a statement.

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