We recently shared important news about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) declining to protect the Joshua tree, an icon of the Mojave Desert, under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). As Guardians staff attorney Jennifer Schwartz noted, “we’re incredibly disappointed that the government, once again, has failed to afford future generations of Joshua trees the federal protections and help they need to withstand climate change, but sadly we’re also not surprised. Now Guardians is forced to explore whether another round of litigation is needed to show that the Service again caved to political opposition and arbitrarily disregarded multiple recent studies forecasting the Joshua tree’s future plight.”
In September 2021, a federal court issued an order instructing the Service to “redo” its listing decision on Joshua tree because the 2019 decision failed to properly consider the best available climate science. (We talked about this science in this previous blog post) In apparent disregard of the court’s order – and even more distressing climate studies that have come out in the past 3 years – the Service, once again, reached a decision that listing the Joshua tree as “threatened” is “unwarranted” because adult trees are unlikely to disappear too significantly from their current range in the next 46 years.
We now are faced with the task of how to hold the agencies accountable to their clear obligations under the ESA as well as the court’s order. We believe that – for the second time in 3 years – the Service failed to properly evaluate climate science and has now left the future of the Joshua tree uncertain.
Here are our main concerns with the decision:
- The Service only looked at a time span of less than 50 years into the future – 2040 to the year 2069. Joshua trees can live up to 150 years and the time frame does not provide a truly scientific measurement to reflect the long term stability of the species.
- The agency glossed over consideration of climate change threats on future generations of Joshua trees and the decreased future “recruitment” or ability of Joshua trees to reproduce. Peer-reviewed models show that climate change will eliminate this beloved plant from the vast majority of its current range, including Joshua Tree National Park, over the coming decades.The decision continues to ignore what the best available science revealed: increasing temperatures and prolonged droughts are already impeding successful Joshua tree reproduction in the southern Mojave
- The Service suggests they will collaborate with agencies like the National Park Service but they do not outline a specific commitment, plan, timeline, nor resources, that would mitigate impacts and help the species adapt to climate change.
The Service is once again passing the buck and ignoring the requirement by the court. As the most stringent federal protection for addressing biodiversity loss, the Endangered Species Act is credited with preventing the extinction of more than 99% of species listed. The ESA is an appropriate tool to prevent the extinction of the Joshua Tree and we will continue to advocate for the best management of the species as possible.
WildEarth Guardians first acted to defend the Joshua tree in 2015.
We remain undaunted and will continue to fight for the Joshua tree so this iconic species doesn’t disappear forever.
In the coming months we will review the best options for challenging this horrible Joshua tree action by the Service. We can’t, and won’t, allow this decision to go unchallenged.
Sign up to receive our email to stay apprised of our next steps as we fight to the save the Joshua tree.
You can also join Guardians and donate to help us in our legal efforts. Every member adds more people power to the effort of being Guardians for the Wild.