This week, the California State Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to protect Western Joshua trees. In a move that is first of its kind, the Joshua trees will be protected for a year under the California Endangered Species Act. During this year of protection, researchers will analyze threats to the species. The Western Joshua trees are beautiful, tall trees that are native to Southern California. They have become the first plant species in California to be granted protection from climate change.
The vote now means that all the Joshua trees in the state will not be harvested for any purpose for a period of one year. In the meantime, a team of researchers will be looking into the state of affairs of the trees. After one year of research, the commission will have to make a decision as to whether the trees will be protected permanently or not.
The petition that has been approved was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, which raised concerns over the increasing threat of climate change. The petition cited heatwaves and worsening drought among the main reasons to protect the trees. In two previous attempts, the commission put off voting. Members of the commission were conflicted based on an outpour of public comments for and against conserving the trees. While conservationists have been pushing for protection, developers have put up a spirited campaign against such a move. But recent fires and extreme weather events seem to have jolted members of the commission into reality.
According to Brendan Cummings, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the vote is a big win for the trees and the environment at large.
“This is a huge victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem,” Cummings said. “If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we’re giving them, the first and most important thing we can do is protect their habitat. This decision will do that across most of their range.”
The decision to protect these trees will not be enough if efforts are not made to reverse the effects of climate change. According to recent research, only 0.02% of the Joshua trees’ habitat in Joshua Tree National Park will remain habitable if the current state of greenhouse gas emissions is maintained. The research suggests that even drastic measures taken to curb emissions would keep only 18.6% of the habitat viable for the trees’ survival.
The damage done to the Joshua trees is already massive. In August alone, a wildfire damaged about 43,000 acres of the Mojave National Park, burning over 1.3 million plants.
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