SOURCE: LA Times

DATE: August 18, 2020

SNIP: Renewable energy corporations have launched an eleventh-hour campaign to derail a petition seeking endangered species protection for Joshua trees, saying it could hinder development of the solar and wind power projects California needs to wean itself off fossil fuels.

The state Fish and Game Commission on Aug. 20 is expected to vote on whether to accept the petition, which was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. Approval has been recommended by state biologists.

As a candidate for listing, a species is temporarily afforded the same protections as a state endangered or threatened species.

A final decision by the five-member state panel is expected next year. If the trees are listed, the law requires state wildlife managers to devise a recovery plan, which could limit development across thousands of acres of southeastern California’s sunniest real estate.

About 40% of the western Joshua tree’s range is on private land where a state endangered-species law would apply, according to the petition, and includes the cities of Palmdale, Lancaster, Hesperia, Victorville and Yucca Valley.

[O]pponents of the petition suggest that saving Joshua trees may not be as important as the economic consequences.

One renewable energy company, Terra-Gen Power, has asked the state commission to delay its vote until January so that state legislative committees can first investigate the implications of listing Joshua trees on state climate goals, energy projects, power purchase agreements and employment opportunities.

Before a commission vote on the matter, Terra-Gen Power said it wants state wildlife authorities to provide it with “clear, unambiguous” instructions on how to expedite permits to remove or destroy Joshua trees standing in the way of proposed renewable energy projects.

“There have been 450 requests for permits to destroy, remove or alter a Joshua tree filed in the Town of Yucca Valley over the past three years,” Nevarez said. “Every one of them was signed off on the same day they were filed. Not one was denied.”

“Now there’s a push to topple as many Joshua trees as possible before the commission votes on the petition,” said Nevarez, a former organizer for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “So far this year, there have been 147 applications for permits to deal with Joshua trees on private property, roughly twice the number filed the previous year.”

“This lamentable paper trail suggests,” he added, “that the Town of Yucca Valley, despite its arguments to the contrary, isn’t capable of properly handling its own permitting processes for dealing with sensitive species.”