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California Officials Vote to Protect the Iconic Joshua Trees

Officials have voted yes on a bill that prohibits the unauthorized removal or killing of the endangered desert plant.

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A comet seen on July 19, 2020, in Joshua Tree, California.
A comet seen on July 19, 2020, in Joshua Tree, California.
Photo: Rich Fury (Getty Images)

California officials have recently voted to permanently protect the otherworldly western Joshua tree, as the desert plant faces challenges caused by development and climate change.

The iconic trees will be protected under the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act that was passed this Tuesday, The Guardian reported. This was part of California’s budget agreement. The act prohibits the unauthorized removal and killing of these plants. Those who are caught doing so will be fined, and the money collected will be “deposited into the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Fund” to further support protection efforts.


Conservation nonprofit ​​Center for Biological Diversity led efforts in the state and rejoiced that this bill would help the old trees stick around in California. “The California Endangered Species Act is our most important biodiversity protection law, and western Joshua trees clearly qualify as threatened,” Brendan Cummings, the Center for Biological Diversity’s conservation director, said in a statement this week. “As the first species in the state to be protected because of climate change, they deserve the special measures contained in the new conservation act.”

The bill is expected to be signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom sometime this week, according to the Center’s press release. Environmentalists have fought for permanent protections for years. The trees received some regional protection in 2020 under the California Endangered Species Act because of climate change. Those protections were not permanent. This February, California’s Fish and Game Commission postponed a vote to list the Joshua trees under the state’s Endangered Species Act. And earlier this year, the Biden administration declined to protect Joshua trees under the federal Endangered Species Act, Reuters reported.


The desert species has historical and regional value to communities out west and Joshua trees have existed for over 2 million years, but their future is uncertain. Their long-term survival has been challenged by a number of climate-related issues. The trees are only found in desert conditions and most of them are in the U.S. West and Southwest, according to the National Wildlife Federation. And the climate crisis is rapidly shrinking the range that the trees can exist in, according to a 2019 study. And sometimes the endangered species have been killed by straight-up human stupidity. Back in early 2021, a California couple dug up more than 30 of the endangered trees on their property. They were fined $18,000 for that, but that didn’t put the trees back into the ground.

Not everyone is excited about laws that protect the endangered species. Developers have argued against major protections for Joshua trees. This is because 40% of the western Joshua tree’s range is found on private lands, the Guardian reported.

Want more climate and environment stories? Check out Earther’s guides to decarbonizing your home, divesting from fossil fuels, packing a disaster go bag, and overcoming climate dread. And don’t miss our coverage of the latest IPCC climate report, the future of carbon dioxide removal, and the invasive plants you should rip to shreds.