It’s now illegal to damage or destroy a Joshua tree for any reason under California’s Endangered Species Act
Joshua trees have decorated the Mojave Desert for an estimated 2.5 million years, surviving several ice ages and warming periods.
But at the current rate of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures, and urban development, only .02% of their habitat will still exist by the end of this century, a recent study finds.
California is trying to slow that trend and protect the iconic Southwestern trees from extinction.
The California Fish and Game Commission has voted to protect Joshua trees under the California Endangered Species act, making it illegal “to damage, cut down, or remove” one without special permits.
The Joshua tree is the first plant species to be protected in the state due to the threats posed by climate change.
“Hotter and drier conditions – like the record-high temperatures that struck the state this summer – are killing off Joshua trees, and leaving fewer young to survive,” reports The Guardian.
Last month, wildfires burned more than 43,000 acres of the world’s densest old-growth Joshua tree forest, killing 1.3 million of the plants.
The protections were adamantly opposed by real estate developers and renewable energy companies, one of which got a special permit to cut down Joshua trees for solar panels.
The trees’ protected status will last for a year, while the commission studies the problem and tries to come up with mitigation strategies. In a year, the commission will vote whether to make their protection status permanent.
The commission took action as a result of a petition by the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity.