This iconic California tree could go extinct. But some officials are wary of naming it ‘threatened’

The otherworldly and iconic Joshua tree, subject of album covers, postcards and untold numbers of Instagram photos, could be listed as a threatened species in California to protect it from desert development and eventual extinction — but state wildlife officials have signaled opposition to the new status .

Next Wednesday, the state Fish and Game Commission will consider whether the twisted, spiky trees, which grow in the Mojave Desert and Great Basin in southeastern California, warrant protection as a threatened species under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity sought protection for the western Joshua tree in October 2019, arguing that climate change, development and wildfires are setting the stage for the trees to become extinct. The commission agreed to accept it as a candidate for the endangered species list in September 2020.

State Fish and Wildlife officials acknowledge that the western Joshua tree’s habitat and population are on the decline and that the threat will only grow. But to the dismay of conservationists, they are not recommending that the commission add the tree to the threatened species list, saying there’s insufficient scientific evidence to support the move.

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