Town Of Yucca Valley: Don’t List Joshua Trees As Endangered

The Yucca Valley Town Council last week went on record as being opposed to the State of California’s proposal that the state’s western Joshua trees be provided with with protection from uprooting and destruction.
On April 13, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in reaction to an assertion by the Center For Biological Diversity that the desert-specific yucca brevifolia, as the Joshua tree is known scientifically, has been brought closer to extinction by development, climate change, drought and increasing numbers of wildfires, recommended that its board of commissioners take action to list it as an endangered species.
The trees have been afforded some level of protection within Joshua Tree National Park, which lies within San Bernardino County. However, outside the park, off-road vehicle use, cattle grazing, powerlines and pipelines and large-scale energy projects are destroying its habitat. Approximately 40 percent of the western Joshua tree’s range in California is on private land, with only a minute percentage protected from development. The Center For Biological Diversity has projected that virtually all of this habitat will be lost without stronger legal protections for the trees.
“The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center For Biological Diversity.
A portion of the desert population, including those with a degree power and authority, disagree.
Yucca Valley Town Manager Shane Stueckle in a report dated May 14 told the council, “The California Fish and Game Commission has been petitioned to list the Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act. The commission is scheduled to consider the petition at [its] meeting of June 24 and 25, 2020.”
Stueckle is among those who consider the listing of the tree as an endangered species to be an overreaction. He suggested that the town council register its opposition to the listing being made, and he took the liberty of composing a letter for Yucca Valley Town Mayor Jeff Drozd’s signature. Stueckle’s request that the town make an official objection to the listing proposal and authorize the sending of the letter was taken up by the town council at its May 19 meeting.
Monica Zimarik, the president of the Joshua Tree Gateway Association of Realtors, told the council, “We are strongly in opposition to this petition, but we are in support of the mayor’s letter. While the beautiful Joshua Tree is our association’s namesake and we want to protect them for many generations, not at the expense of homeowner rights and our future generations’ ability to purchase affordable housing. Joshua Trees are already protected. In fact, there’s over 2.3 million acres of the Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Preserve. They are protected habitats. So, my question is to you, ‘Who is going to protect our small community of home- and landowners?’ This petition would strip away rights of owners and give them to an already-protected species. This will cause prices to skyrocket.”
Art Miller said that the Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce was “in strong opposition” to the petition for protection, and he warned of catastrophe if the Joshua Tree was declared an endangered species, saying, “This is going to be devastating for this whole area.”
Councilman Rick Denison, participating in the meeting remotely, said the city’s commitment to “environmental stewardship” was something done in cooperation with developers, and he reasoned that “what were doing right now doesn’t include cooperation.” He said it was a “blanket order” for the entire state of California with no concessions made for specific areas such as Yucca Valley. “Projects would be hindered,” said Denison. “The costs would be too much for people to build within our community.”
Councilman Merl Abel said, “We all have a love for our ecosystem up here,” but he said declaring the Joshua tree to be an endangered species was “overreaching and would really, really hurt so many people. This would only add to the cost of developing a single-family home.” He said the city had adequate safeguards for the tree.
Councilman Jim Schooler said, “I would agree we already have sufficient protections in place.”
Councilman Robert Lombardo said the state’s proposed action constitutes “overburdensome regulation. It will just add extreme burden to the town for the development of the town and infrastructure without any real benefit to the Joshua trees in our area.”
Mayor Jeff Drozd said he believed Yucca Valley had more Joshua trees than the unincorporated community of Joshua Tree.
Of the proposal to have the state officially declare the tree as an endangered species, Drozd said, “I would not be against [the state’s action] if it didn’t include cities, towns and private land. If it was only public land, that’s fine, but cities and towns have to survive, they have to operate, and that’s part of my reasoning.” He said the state layering further protection onto the tree was “just adding more red tape and cost.”
In accordance with a motion by Councilman Abel, the council voted unanimously to authorize Drozd to sign the letter and have it sent to the State. It was not clear from the council meeting broadcast who had seconded the motion.
The letter, in part, reads, “The Town of Yucca Valley, possibly more than any other community in the state, values the integration of the desert environment, including the Joshua Tree and other unique desert plants, into our continued development as a community. As evidenced by our Town logo, as well as our general plan vision and values, the desert environment is woven into the fabric of this community. After careful consideration however, the Yucca Valley Town Council is in strong opposition to the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.”
Further, the letter says that “the western Joshua tree is not presently threatened with extinction. As such, the petition predicts a future decline due to global climate change. The proposed listing is based upon theory and modeling efforts, not current scientific facts as they exist today. To place the conservation requirements onto private property owners prior to governmental agencies attempting to collaborate and cooperate in implementing effective conservation efforts is neither good public policy nor good governance. Placing significant financial burdens on private landowners will not address the theoretical decline in the species as outlined in the petition. The California desert is comprised of rural, underserved communities that face economic challenges unlike other areas of our state.”
The letter continues, “Imposition of the State Endangered Species Act will create unnecessary impediments, as well as greatly increased costs, to the delivery of these much-needed infrastructure systems throughout the Morongo Basin. In many cases, these limitations upon infrastructure development will prevent the agencies from delivering much needed housing development, transportation network capacity enhancements and job creation through commercial development opportunities. Placing significant constrains and financial burdens on infrastructure development in the Morongo Basin will not address the theoretical decline in the species as outlined in the petition. While we appreciate the commission’s role in administering the California Endangered Species Act, it is equally important to recognize when conflicting state public policies create an untenable framework within which the town must navigate. I urge you to consider the significant impacts this will have on rural desert communities including the Town of Yucca Valley, and respectfully ask that you deny this petition.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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