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California delays decision to list Joshua tree as threatened

A Joshua tree is pictured in Joshua Tree National Park in this undated photo.
Jae C. Hong / AP
In this Jan. 10, 2019, file photo, two visitors ride their bikes along the road at Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California's Mojave Desert.

California again pushed back its decision on whether to list the western Joshua tree as threatened after a unanimous vote Wednesday by the Fish and Game Commission.

The decision to move back the vote until at least February comes months after the commission deadlocked on whether the native desert plant should be protected under the California Endangered Species Act. Since the tree is still under consideration to be listed as threatened, no one can remove it without authorization from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Before the commission's split vote in June, the Department of Fish and Wildlife sent letters to Indigenous tribes with traditional ties to the area where the western Joshua trees live. That outreach resulted in six responses from tribal nations, said Director Chuck Bonham. In August, tribal members talked about the cultural and ecological significance of the tree on a Zoom call with Bonham and others.

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“I actually would love more time to keep the conversation alive with the nations themselves,” Bonham said.

In 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the tree to be listed as threatened in order to protect it from hotter temperatures, intensifying drought and development threats.

Commissioners said they need more time to hear from tribal leaders and to allow tribal governments to consult again before the commission can make a final decision.

Samantha Murray, president of the Fish and Game Commission, said Wednesday she hopes there's a legislative alternative that would offer similar protections for the western Joshua tree to those required under the California Endangered Species Act.

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“I really hope we're talking about meaningful protections,” Murray said.

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