A Federal District Court judge this week told Home Secretary Deb Haaland and the US Fish and Wildlife Service that they had wrongly denied the iconic and gangly protection of the Joshua tree under the endangered species.
Justice Otis Wright II called the service’s refusal to protect the species, for which one of the most popular national parks is named, “arbitrary and capricious” and said federal agencies had ignored many scientific studies, including some which projected “the near complete loss … by the end of the century” of key populations.
In his ruling, released on Monday, he ordered them to reconsider, this time using “the best science available” on tree decline, including models of climate change, and issue a new ruling within 12 months.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to decide whether to appeal the order. Jane Hendron, spokesperson for the service’s office in Carlsbad, which covers the Joshua tree, said, “The US Fish and Wildlife Service does not comment on disputes.”
WildEarth Guardians first asked the federal agency in 2015 to classify the Joshua tree as “threatened.” Their lawyers praised Monday’s decision, saying it could help not only the desert plant, but also other species that are losing ground due to higher heat, dwindling water and shrinking water. other human-made climate change impacts.
“The court’s unequivocal ruling – that the service cannot summarily dismiss scientific evidence that goes against its findings – will force the federal government to face the reality of climate change and start focusing on the way to help species adapt, ”said Jennifer Schwartz, staff lawyer. for WildEarth Guardians and lead counsel in the case.
The group said in a press release that “all available scientific evidence points to the same conclusion: Joshua trees will be in danger of extinction across much of their current range by the turn of the century. cause of habitat loss due to climate change, invasive grass fueled forest fire, and other stressors. “
He said that while the decision was delayed for four years under the Trump administration, the Biden administration also failed to take the lead in immediately protecting the tree’s two main species.
Notably, while the decision was rendered by the service under the Trump administration, the service refused to budge from its indefensible position – or even consider taking a new look at the conclusion – even under the Biden administration. The group wrote.
In April, pending a decision on their appeal, WildEarth Guardians filed emergency petitions with the federal government, saying western and eastern species needed immediate protection due to rapidly worsening drought, escalating climate change and the loss of 1.3 million trees after the great Cima Dome fire swept through Mojave National Preserve in August 2020.
If these requests are accepted, it would be immediately illegal to cut down, remove, degrade or otherwise “take” individual trees, said Lindsay Larris, director of the wildlife program at WildEarth Guardians, in may.
The service has ignored those petitions, the group said, choosing instead to spend public funds trying to defend its decision in court, rather than on actions to protect the species.
“For the sake of the Joshua Tree and the overwhelming majority of the public who believe in the conservation, science and protection of species and habitat, we are optimistic that the service will take this opportunity to quickly take a move to protect the Joshua tree, “Schwartz said.” Our climate-threatened species – plants and animals alike – don’t have time for political games that unambiguously challenge science. “
The western species, also known as the Mojave Desert Yucca, is protected by state law as a candidate species for listing under the California Endangered Species Act.
The construction and mining trade groups had sued stop the decision of the State Fish and Game Commission to advance gangly plant species through the listing process. But a state superior court judge ruled in February that the western Joshua tree would retain the protections it received when it became a candidate species, throughout the state listing process.
Janet Wilson is a senior environmental reporter for The Desert Sun and writes USA Today’s Climate Point newsletter. Subscribe here free. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ janetwilson66