Getty Images / Robert Miramontes

A year-long study will now get underway to determine whether the succulents warrant a permanent place among California’s threatened species.

J.D. Simkins  – September 22, 2020 | Updated September 23, 2020

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The California Fish and Game Commission made history Tuesday when they voted unanimously to grant western Joshua trees temporary protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

The vote, which marks the first time such measures have been taken to protect a species threatened primarily by the effects of climate change, follows a federal denial to preserve the oft-visited succulents under the Endangered Species Act.

A year-long study will now ensue, during which time state officials will determine whether Joshua trees warrant a permanent place among California’s threatened species, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

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“Today’s vote underscores California’s longstanding commitment to defending California desert ecosystems and critical species including the Joshua tree,” Chris Clarke, NPCA’s California desert associate director, said in a release.

“Our work isn’t over, as we must ensure state agencies complete the listing process next year and grant full threatened species protections for the western Joshua tree.”

Efforts to stymie the impact of climate change are now more critical than ever, with scientists estimating Joshua Tree National Park could be entirely devoid of its namesake within the next 100 years. The recent string of wildfires ravaging the American West provided yet another nudge for those spearheading the effort.

“While the recent Dome Fire in Mojave National Preserve burnt a different species of Joshua tree, it is a stark reminder of the importance of protecting fragile California desert species and ecosystems in the face of the climate crisis,” Clarke said in the release.

“If we can permanently lose 1.3 million trees on fully protected land in less than a week, it’s clear we have to do everything possible to protect every acre of Joshua tree forest that still remains standing.”

Joshua trees, which typically grow between 20 and 40 feet in height, with some reaching as high as 70 feet, are long believed to have been given their name by Mormon settlers during the westward expansion of the mid-19th century.

“In the often strange silhouettes of branches, they saw the outstretched arms of the biblical prophet Joshua leading them westward,” the National Park Service notes.

Learn more here about the efforts to preserve them as part of Tuesday’s historic vote.


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