WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Securing Federal Protections for the Iconic Joshua Tree

WildEarth Guardians v. Bernhardt, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Won, Settlement Victory
Case No.
Case 2:19-cv-09473-CAS-KS (C.D. Cal.)
Date Filed
November 4, 2019
State, Venue
California, California Federal District Court (Central District)
Jennifer R. Schwartz (lead), Lindsay Larris
On September 20, 2021 a federal district court in Los Angeles ruled in WildEarth Guardians’ favor on all counts, finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) violated the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) by disregarding overwhelming scientific evidence showing climate change poses a major threat to the Joshua tree’s survival when the agency denied listing the species as threatened under the Act. This favorable ruling marks the end to Guardians’ lawsuit (filed in November 2019) challenging the Service’s decision that the desert icon did not warrant federal protection, despite all the available scientific evidence pointing to the same conclusion: Joshua trees will be in danger of extinction throughout most of their current range by century’s end from climate change driven habitat loss, invasive grass fueled wildfire, and other stressors.

“The Court’s decision represents a monumental step forward for the Joshua tree, but also for all climate-imperiled species whose fate relies upon the Service following the law and evaluating the best scientific data available with respect to forecasting future climate change impacts,” said Jennifer Schwartz, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians and lead attorney on the case. “The Court’s unequivocal holding – that the Service cannot summarily dismiss scientific evidence that runs counter to its conclusions – will force the federal government to confront the reality of climate change and begin focusing on how to help species adapt.”

Guardians first filed a petition to list the Joshua tree as “threatened” under the ESA in 2015 and the Service found the listing “not warranted” in August 2019. The Service’s conclusory assertions under the Trump Administration, ignored every available peer-reviewed study to model future climate impacts to Joshua tree – all of which agree that the vast majority (roughly 90%) of the species’ current range will be rendered unsuitable by the end of the 21st century. The Court lambasted the Service’s decision in the ruling holding that “[i]n concluding that climate change will not affect Joshua trees at a population- or species level, the Service relies on speculation and unsupported assumptions.”