Western Joshua Trees Receive Temporary Protection Under the California Endangered Species Act

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Designation Impacts Local Ordinances and Developments Involving the Tree

Of particular significance to desert communities, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the western Joshua tree as a “candidate” species under the California Endangered Species Act. As a result, the western Joshua tree is temporarily given the same protections CESA gives state-listed threatened or endangered species.

The Commission listed the western Joshua tree as a candidate species at its meeting Tuesday when it accepted for consideration a petition to list the tree as a threatened or endangered species under CESA. The tree will enjoy full CESA protection as a candidate species until the Commission makes a formal determination as to whether to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species — a decision the Commission will not likely make until the fall of 2021.

As long as the western Joshua tree remains a candidate species, CESA prohibits any person, entity or public agency from taking, killing, possessing, purchasing or selling the western Joshua tree unless the Commission grants a permit allowing such activity. To the extent that local ordinances permit such activity, they are now superseded by CESA. The western Joshua tree’s status as a candidate species thus has significant implications for agencies with ordinances concerning the tree and for entities that seek to develop property with them.

The Commission also adopted an emergency regulation authorizing the conditional take of the western Joshua tree — for the period that the tree is a candidate species — for 15 solar energy projects expected to begin construction in the coming year.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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