Protecting the Joshua Tree in California

The Joshua Tree is being protected in California under the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act.

The Joshua Tree is being protected in California under the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act. Image: Jamie D’Souza

Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act Protects Joshua Trees in California

The Joshua Tree is a plant belonging to the yucca genus and is now protected by the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act. They are the world’s largest yucca in the world and grow in a fairly limited range within the Mojave Desert of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The Joshua Tree is only able to grow between elevations of 2000 and 6000 feet. The average lifespan of a Joshua Tree is said to be about 500 years, and finally, a law will help protect them. 

It is a large, solitary plant that can grow up to 40 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter and has a long, thick trunk covered in a gray-green bark. The leaves are long and narrow, and they grow in a spiral pattern around the trunk. The Joshua tree blooms in the spring, and its flowers are white or cream-colored. It is an iconic symbol of the Mojave Desert and is named after the Christian biblical figure Joshua because its branches are said to resemble his outstretched arms. It is a hardy but slow-growing plant and can take centuries to reach maturity, but it evolved to survive in harsh desert conditions, such as hot summers and cold winters.

The Joshua tree is an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem. It provides food and shelter for many animals, including birds, insects, and small mammals and is a source of medicine for Native Americans.

Due to climate change, its habitat has been getting hotter and drier over the past century. As a result, Joshua Trees are under the stress of hotter temperatures and drought conditions. This will impact many animal populations dependent on the trees for survival. Development is also a threat to Joshua trees, as they are often cleared to make way for homes, roads, and other development. Illegal removal of Joshua trees is also a problem, as some people collect the trees for their flowers or sell them as souvenirs.

The Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act is intended to protect the species that has grown in California’s eastern desert region since the Pleistocene era, 2.5m years ago. However, global heating is putting this species at severe risk. In response to the effects of climate change, the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act was passed in California. The Act prohibits the unpermitted killing or removal of trees and requires developing a conservation plan and creating a fund to protect the species. The budget includes $5 million for environmental organizations to participate in conservation efforts for the species. This is the first California legislation focused on protecting a climate-threatened species.  

The tree has received the same protections as a state-listed endangered or threatened species. The Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act prohibits any person or public agency from importing into the state, exporting out of the state or taking, possessing or selling within the state a western Joshua tree or any part or product of the tree. This is to prevent new housing projects in areas where these trees are typically found from illegally cutting down the trees. The housing projects will also have to provide payments and mitigation funds that will be used to acquire habitat for the trees elsewhere.  

Mitigation steps could include fees and relocating the trees and will generally require limiting the harm or removal of trees as much as possible. Under Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act, the projects are not allowed to remove more than ten individual trees from a project site for housing.

Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act also requires that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife prepare a conservation plan for the Joshua Trees by the end of 2024 and submit an updated status report on the species by 2033.

In a perfect world, we would leave the trees and not uproot them for the purpose of development. But this is the reality, and the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act is a way to ensure that none of the species are killed or destroyed but simply moved. Moreover, adding mitigation funds and fines to housing projects might discourage builders from building in areas where Joshua Trees are found. It is a step towards protecting and conserving this unique species of tree. 

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