Western Joshua Tree Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

I have a living western Joshua tree (WJT) on my property that is creating a hazard, and I would like to remove it. Can I apply for a Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act (WJTCA) Hazard Management Permit for removal?

Under the WJTCA Hazard Management Permit, CDFW is only able to authorize trimming of living WJTs, not removal. You may submit an application to trim a living WJT that indicates which limb or limbs to be removed meet one of the following conditions:

  • Has fallen over and is within 30 feet of a structure;
  • Is leaning against an existing structure; or
  • Creates an imminent threat to public health and safety

The trimming of a live WJT may not result in the mortality of the tree (i.e., trees cannot be trimmed to the ground so no live branches are remaining).

How can I apply to trim/cut down a hazardous WJT in my yard? What if the tree is on county or city property, but the tree is growing into my yard?

To trim or remove a hazardous WJT on your property you should visit the How-to-Guide under our permitting page to determine if you qualify for a WJTCA Hazard Management Permit. A permit may be issued to a property owner under certain circumstances. A qualified desert native plant specialist is required to assist with removal or trimming of live trees. Visit WJT Permitting page to learn more about hazard tree permits.

The permit must be completed by the property owner. If the tree is on county or city property you will need to report it to the city or county so they may request a Hazard Management Permit.

I have a dead WJT on my property that I would like to remove, and a separate (live or dead) tree that I would like to trim. Can I apply for a single permit to manage both trees?

Yes. The WJTCA Hazard Management Permit (HMP) allows you to apply for a single permit to manage multiple WJTs and management needs on your property as long as the trees meet the HMP qualifying conditions. Your permit application must include photographs of the WJTs that visually depict the dead tree(s) and/or the tree(s) to be trimmed.

What is the cost for a WJTCA Hazard Management Permit?

There are no fees associated with applying for a WJTCA Hazard Management Permit.

Where do I find a Desert Plant Specialist required under the WJTCA?

Under the WJTCA, a desert native plant specialist is defined as an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), or an individual with at least five years of professional experience with relocation or restoration of native California desert vegetation. Certified arborists can be found on ISA's Find an Arborist site (treesaregood.org). A professional native California desert plant relocation or restoration specialist can usually be found working for landscaping companies or environmental consulting firms throughout Southern California.

What is the timeline associated with getting a permit through the WJTCA?

Western Joshua Tree Hazard Management Permits

  • If a western Joshua tree creates an imminent threat to public health and safety, the department will issue a permit allowing for the removal or trimming within 10 days of receipt of a request for a permit.
  • If a western Joshua tree has fallen over and is within 30 feet of a structure or is leaning against an existing structure, the department will issue a permit allowing for the removal or trimming within 30 days of receipt of a request for a permit.

WJTCA Incidental Take Permits do not have any statutory timelines. CDFW will process the applications as expeditiously as possible.

How can I find out if my city or county is delegated to issue WJT permits?

As of December 2023, no cities or counties have delegation authority agreements with CDFW. When those agreements are established, an announcement will be made through the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Updates email list and posted on the CDFW Western Joshua Tree Permitting page.

Is there a maximum number of WJTs that can be taken per permit?

There is no limit to the number of WJTs that can be taken under a WJTCA permit through CDFW.

There is a limit to the number of trees that can be taken associated with a WJTCA Incidental Take Permit through a delegation agreement with a city/town/county. Under those permits, a project can take no more than 10 individual trees on the project site for construction of a single-family residence, multifamily residence, or accessory structure, or no more than 40 individual trees on the project site where a public agency proposes a public works project involving the erection, construction, alteration, repair, or improvement of any public structure, building, road, or other public improvement of any kind.

Do I only need a WJT permit from CDFW? Are there other agencies I need to receive a permit or guidance from?

CDFW is responsible for issuing permits for take of WJT under the WJTCA. CDFW may enter into an agreement with a county or city to delegate to the county or city to authorize the removal or trimming of dead WJTs, trimming of live WJTs, and removal of WJTs associated with developing single-family residences, accessory structures, and public works projects. If you have a project falling into those categories, please check with your county or city to see if they have entered into an agreement with CDFW to issue permits. If so, please work with your local city or county to obtain permit guidance. If your local county or city has not entered into an agreement with CDFW to issue permits, or if your project does not fall into those categories, please contact CDFW for permitting guidance.

You are also responsible for complying with all other federal, state, and local laws and regulations that are applicable to your activities. If obtaining your permit through CDFW, please check with your city or county, as they may have additional ordinances or rules relating to WJT.

Will I have to go through the city/county if they have an agreement with the State or can I elect to go through CDFW?

Applicants may choose to obtain a permit through a city/county, if a delegation agreement is in place and their project meets the parameters for delegated agreements or go through CDFW. However, there may be some benefits to choosing a city/county permit such as a reduced mitigation fee, depending on the location of your project.

What do I do if I think someone is trimming, removing, or killing WJT illegally?

The WJTCA continues the existing prohibition on importation, export, take, possession, purchase, or sale of any WJTs in California unless authorized by CDFW. You can report any violations of the WJTCA through the CalTIP Program.

How do I tell the difference between a western Joshua tree and an eastern Joshua tree?

Joshua tree range map - follow link to enlarge open PDF in new tab
Joshua tree range map. (PDF version)

In the wild, western Joshua trees are geographically separated from eastern Joshua trees, hence, their name. The map below shows the natural range of each species.

Western Joshua trees typically have a distinct central trunk that usually branches higher off the ground than eastern Joshua trees. Additionally, a western Joshua tree may have clonal growth from the base of the trunk and be more bush-like in appearance. On western Joshua trees, the first branches usually split between 3-10 ft from the ground whereas eastern Joshua trees usually branch below 3ft. Western Joshua trees have slightly larger leaves compared to eastern Joshua trees. The flower characteristics also differ between western and eastern Joshua trees. Western Joshua tree flowers are more spherical, the tips of flower petals curve inwards, and are a cream color. Eastern Joshua tree flowers are more bell-shaped, the flower tips curve outward at full bloom, and can be a slightly greenish to cream color.

If you are unsure what kind of Joshua tree may be within your project footprint, please contact a Desert Native Plant Specialist for assistance.

What is the in-lieu fee for?

In-lieu fees streamline the approach to permitting and will allow permittees to satisfy mitigation obligations by paying a set amount for the take of each individual WJT, based on the tree’s height and location. All in-lieu fees collected under the WJTCA will be deposited into the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Fund to be used to address threats to the WJT, including through the acquisition, conservation, and management of WJT conservation lands.

 Map illustrating in-lieu fee structure

Is WJT still a candidate under the California Endangered Species Act?

Yes. The species will retain its candidate status until the California Fish and Game Commission formally votes to list WJT as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), or to deny the pending listing petition. However, important state law options now exist pursuant to the WJTCA.

While the WJT is a candidate species, WJT take permitting options are available under the WJTCA, CESA, and the NCCP Act. If the Commission later determines that listing the WJT as endangered or threatened pursuant to CESA is warranted, the WJTCA will become inoperative and the authorization of take of a WJT will only be allowed under CESA or pursuant to the NCCP Act. However, regardless of CESA status, the WJT Conservation Plan will continue to guide conservation of this species, CDFW will remain committed to co-management of the species with California Native American tribes, and the WJT Conservation Funds will be used for acquisition, restoration, and other conservation actions for the benefit of WJT.

Will there be an updated WJT status review?

Yes. On April 21, 2022, CDFW submitted a WJT status review report to the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) evaluating whether listing the species as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act would be warranted. Under the WJTCA, CDFW must prepare and submit an updated status review to the Commission by January 1, 2033, unless the Commission directs CDFW to complete it sooner.

Importantly, for that future update, the WJTCA requires CDFW to incorporate any new scientific information and include an evaluation of the impact of any conservation and management efforts. This means implementation of the unique attributes of the WJTCA approach such as in-lieu fee, delegation of local authority, permitting streamlining, and landscape conservation will all be factored into any future management decisions by the Commission.

The WJTCA effectively creates an implementation period for everyone to work together to conserve the tree, implement the conservation plan, and illustrate the efficiencies of the streamlined, unique permitting mechanisms like in-lieu fees and local government delegation.

Habitat Conservation Planning Branch
1010 Riverside Parkway, West Sacramento, CA 95605
Mailing: P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090