Western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) became a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), effective October 9, 2020 (Office of Administrative Law notice number Z2020-0924-01(PDF)). CESA prohibits the take and possession of any species, or any part or product of a species that is designated by the California Fish and Game Commission as an endangered, threatened, or candidate species. As a candidate species, western Joshua tree now has full protection under CESA and any take of the species (including removal of western Joshua tree or similar actions) will require authorization under CESA. The exceptions and permitting process under the California Desert Native Plants Act and the separate exceptions under the Native Plant Protection Act will not apply to western Joshua tree in any manner. For projects where “take” is incidental to carrying out an otherwise lawful activity, an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) may be obtained from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Permits allowing the removal of a dead western Joshua tree or the trimming of a western Joshua tree may also be issued by CDFW under limited circumstances as described below. CDFW also recommends you contact your city and county regarding any additional permits or approvals that they may require, because city and county permit processes may be separate from permits that are needed from CDFW.
For information on trimming of western Joshua trees and removal of dead western Joshua trees within the jurisdictions of the City of Palmdale, the Town of Yucca Valley and unincorporated San Bernardino County, please contact the appropriate local agency:
Permits for trimming or dead tree removal
Because of the public health and safety hazard that may be presented by dead or weakened western Joshua trees in public rights-of-way or near structures, the California Fish and Game Commission recently moved forward with the addition of Section 749.11, Title 14, California Code of Regulations (CCR), to create a special order allowing incidental take of western Joshua trees during CESA candidacy for activities that meet certain conditions. These emergency regulations became effective on January 7, 2021, and the effective period ends on November 9, 2021. Under the emergency regulations, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will be able to issue permits allowing the removal of a dead western Joshua tree or the trimming of a western Joshua tree, without payment of mitigation fees or other mitigation, if the dead tree or any limb to be removed:
- Has fallen over;
- Is leaning against an existing structure; or
- Creates an imminent threat to public health or safety.
A property owner may request a permit allowing the removal of a dead western Joshua tree or the trimming of a western Joshua tree by submitting the required information and photographs to WJT@wildlife.ca.gov as described in the text of the regulation. CDFW has prepared an application form that property owners may use to request permits.
If property owners are unable to submit requests via email, requests and photographs may also be mailed to:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Habitat Conservation Planning Branch
Attention: Western Joshua Tree Permitting
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
Additional Emergency Regulations
California Fish and Game Commission recently moved forward with two other emergency regulations under CESA that allow for the incidental take of western Joshua tree during candidacy, in addition to the regulations described above allowing CDFW to permit the removal of a dead western Joshua tree or the trimming of a western Joshua tree (Section 749.11, Title 14, CCR). These two additional emergency regulations are California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Sections 749.10 and 749.12. Information on these regulations is available from the California Fish and Game Commission website:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is “Take”?
A: Any activity that results in the removal of a western Joshua tree, or any part thereof, or impacts the seedbank surrounding one or more western Joshua trees may result in “take” of the species which is prohibited by State law unless otherwise authorized. Therefore, the CDFW recommends that CESA authorization be obtained from CDFW prior to such impact. For projects where “take” is incidental to carrying out an otherwise lawful activity, an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) may be obtained from CDFW. Permits allowing the removal of a dead western Joshua tree or the trimming of a western Joshua tree may also be issued by CDFW under limited circumstances as described on this web page.
Q: How do I apply for an incidental take permit?
A: See the details of the application process and requirements for an ITP. As a brief summary, the ITP process requires preparation of an application and payment of fees. The application requires several elements described in regulation including analysis of project impacts, mitigation measures, funding, and other elements. Preparation of an ITP application and related mitigation often requires biological studies and professional consultation services. Mitigation will vary from project to project, but could include project revisions to reduce or minimize impacts on-site, and compensatory off-site mitigation to acquire, conserve, and manage western Joshua trees and their associated habitat. Before CDFW may issue an ITP, compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act is required.
Q: “I don’t have western Joshua trees or won’t impact them, my City/County wants something in writing from CDFW saying I don’t need a permit.”
A: It is the obligation of project proponent to ensure that “take” of western Joshua tree does not occur or to obtain appropriate CESA authorization. CDFW does not provide written determinations that a permit is not required.