LOS ANGELES, CA November 5, 2019 – On the heels of the 25th anniversary of Joshua Tree National Park, Western conservation group WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) is taking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to court over its refusal to protect the Joshua tree under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Guardians petitioned the tree, an icon of the Southern California desert, for listing as “threatened” in 2015 and the Service denied the petition in August of 2019.

“The Service’s justification for denying protection to the Joshua tree is baloney,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Service bends over backward to ignore the clear dangers climate change presents to this iconic species.”

The complaint filed yesterday takes on multiple failures of the Service’s finding, including its complete dismissal of multiple climate models and their discounting of best available science on Joshua tree reproduction and dispersal, which shows that Joshua trees are not likely to expand or shift their range in response to changing climates.

The lawsuit follows on the heels of an important date for Joshua trees: Joshua Tree National Park celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 31, marking the number of years since it was elevated from National Monument to National Park status in 1994.

“California is literally a house on fire right now and we have an Administration that is dubious about the reality of climate change,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Wildfires are devastating to people as well as species, and present a particularly large threat to the survival of the Joshua tree.”  According to a UC Riverside study, fewer than one in ten trees survive a wildfire.

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. WildEarth Guardians joined a coalition of environmental protection organizations in challenging the legality of these new regulations in September 2019. That case is pending in the Northern District of California federal court.

“The Trump administration cannot make substantive legislative changes through administrative rulemaking, nor can it dismiss its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act because scientific modeling is inconvenient to special interest groups,” said Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians.  “Guardians will take all steps necessary to defend the ESA and the many species that depend on it for their very survival.”

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. 

WildEarth Guardians (www.wildearthguardians.org) is a conservation non-profit whose mission is to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Guardians has offices in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, and over 231,000 members and supporters worldwide. Follow Guardians on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.