County & Yucca Valley Cleared To Okay Joshua Tree Removals

The County of San Bernardino and the Town of Yucca Valley have qualified under an arrangement with the State of California and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue permits for the removal of Western Joshua trees under specified circumstances.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff members, in reaction to an environmental group’s assertion that Western Joshua trees have been brought closer to extinction by development, climate change, drought and increasing numbers of wildfires, recommended in April 2020 that the department’s board of commissioners take action to give the desert-specific yucca brevifolia, as the Joshua tree is known scientifically, protection.
A monocotyledonous tree, one with seeds typically contained in only one embryonic leaf or cotyledon, the Joshua tree is native to the arid southwestern United States, specifically California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, where it is confined mostly to the Mojave Desert between 1,300 feet and 5,900 feet in elevation.
According to the Center For Biological Diversity, an environmental group, scientists have projected that the Joshua tree will be largely gone from its namesake national park by the end of this century.
In 2019, the Donald Trump Administration denied federal protection for the species. Environmentalists have told state officials that they must fill the void created by the federal government’s inaction, and lead efforts to ensure the Joshua tree’s survival.
The removal of Western Joshua trees is now highly restricted, permitted only under rigorously monitored conditions while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife studies whether to place the trees on its endangered or threatened species lists.
On December 10, 2020, the California Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to convey to certain qualified governmental entities the authority to okay the removal of Joshua trees, pursuant to state standards. The town and the county were required by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to pay $10,000 to the California Western Joshua Tree Mitigation Fund prior to those two governmental entities being granted leave to issue removal permits.
Developers, landowners and residents over the last nine months have sought from the county and town permission to remove Joshua trees from their own property or property they have tied up or otherwise secured. The grounds for the removal requests range from constructing multiple structures to constructing a single structure to making improvements to removing dying or dead trees. Neither the county nor the town had the authority to grant that permission. Until December 10 last, any removals had to be cleared with the state. Some of those looking to remove the trees have persisted in their requests of the county and the town.
Under the action by the California Fish and Wildlife Commission and the county’s and town’s efforts to claim that authority, those two entities are now in a position to consider and potentially grant removal requests.
Nevertheless, removing a Joshua tree even for those with relatively deep pockets is an expensive proposition.
Based on fees determined and set by the state, the cost to relocate a Joshua tree 13.123 feet tall or smaller on developed property will cost $175. To remove the same size tree from developed land will cost $525. To relocate a Joshua tree taller than 13.123 feet from developed property will cost $700. To remove a tree taller than 13.123 feet from developed property will cost $2,100.
Relocating a Western Joshua that is 13.123 feet tall or taller that is on undeveloped land will cost $2,425. Removing a tree that is 13.123 feet tall or more from undeveloped property will cost $4,175.
A Joshua trees that is less than 13.123 feet high growing on undeveloped land can be relocated for $625 and removed for $1,050.
In addition to those state-mandated charges, the Town of Yucca Valley will bill permit applicants $500 more to cover town staff time for processing the permit.
It is undetermined if the county will levy a processing charge or what the amount will be.
In addition to county or city employees examining the permit application, the information provided by the applicant will also be run by state officials during the process. This means a state employee will have veto power over the issuing of the permit, despite what the decision is by the local official considering the application.
According to the state, permits can be issued so a sewer line can be laid or sewer connection made; to facilitate the construction of a residence or accessory structure, such as a garage, swimming pool or storage shed; to make room for a public structure or road; or to remove trees determined to be dead by a licensed arborist.
Permits cannot be issued to facilitate substituting cultivated landscaping for natural landscaping.
The county and town are required to survey all properties where a removal or relocation permit is issued, and to take a count of the Joshua trees on those properties.
The Yucca Valley Town Council earlier this month adopted an urgency ordinance codifying the standards for granting a relocation or removal permit and setting the fee schedule.
-Mark Gutglueck

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