Joshua trees granted protection from climate change, under Californian law

Joshua trees have become the first plant species in California to be granted protection from climate change.

Under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), the Joshua trees, which are native to the Mojave Desert, will be protected for a year during which time the trees will not be harvested and researchers will analyse threats to the species.

After the one year period of protection, the California Fish and Game Commission will have to make a decision as to whether the trees will be protected permanently or not.

The spike-leafed evergreens that are Joshua trees are actually a succulent – the largest of the Yuccas. Joshua trees grow only in the Mojave Desert. Its height varies from 15-40 feet with a diameter of 1-3 feet. They grow 2 to 3 inches a year, takes 50 to 60 years to mature and they can live 150 years.

Joshua trees are an important part of the Mojave ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects and lizards. However, research has indicated that only 0.02% of the tree’s current habitat in Joshua Tree National Park will remain viable in the future due to climate change by the end of the century.

Last year, Brendan Cummings, the conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a petition to have the western Joshua tree listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. He welcomed the recent vote to have the tree protected a big win for the trees and the environment at large.

He said: “This is a huge victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem. If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we’re giving them, the first and most important thing we can do is protect their habitat. This decision will do that across most of their range.”

A study published last year outlined the possible effects of a warming climate on Joshua trees. It found that The study found that if the climate continues to warm and become more arid, and no preventative measures are taken, Joshua trees could be almost completely eliminated from the park by the end of this century.

Wildfires in the Southwest also are one of the biggest threats faced by Joshua trees. Although adult Joshua trees historically have been quite resilient to fire, the introduction of invasive grasses has resulted in an easier spread of wildfire, according to Center for Biological Diversity.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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