Washington, D.C.. August 14, 2019 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today published a notice indicating it will not protect the Joshua tree, an icon of the Southern California desert, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), the conservation group that petitioned the tree for listing as “threatened” in 2015, condemned the decision and vowed to challenge it in court.
“It appears that this administration is ignoring the science because they don’t believe in climate change,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “This is blatant disregard of the climate crisis.”
The finding comes, ironically, on the heels of a study conducted by UC Riverside predicting a dire future for Joshua trees. While Joshua trees have existed for over 2.5 million years, climate change threatens to decimate the population of Joshua trees’ in their namesake park by 2099 without intervention. Joshua Tree National Park celebrated its 83rd birthday on August 10, marking the number of years since its designation as a national monument in 1936 due to the efforts of conservationist, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt.
“Joshua Tree National Park is a wondrous place visited by millions each year,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “These trees symbolize something wild and free in our otherwise constructed lives and their continued existence must be protected for future generations.”
While the ESA is America’s most effective law for protecting wildlife in danger of extinction, final rules promulgated by the Trump administration on August 12, 2019, seek to weaken protections for species including effectively precluding the listing of species based on threat from climate change.
“Guardians will not sit idly by and watch this administration bury its head in the sand to the reality of the climate crisis, sacrificing millions of species for the benefit of special interest groups,” said Larris. “We will continue to fight to list the Joshua tree while opposing efforts that would undermine protection for this and countless other species.”
Since the ESA’s enactment, 99 percent of listed species have avoided extinction, and hundreds more have been set on a path to recovery. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities, resulting in what some scientists term a “biological annihilation.” According to a recent United Nations report, over a million species are currently at risk of extinction. Researchers estimate that, if not for ESA protections, 291 species would have gone extinct since the law’s passage in 1973.