In the wake of the state’s decision Tuesday to make the western Joshua tree a candidate for statewide “threatened” status, the Town of Yucca Valley is now deferring all Joshua tree decisions to California Fish and Game. According to a Town Press, “Local regulations concerning Joshua Trees are superseded by the California Endangered Species Act. Accordingly, all local interpretation, guidance, permitting, enforcement, and any related actions regarding the Joshua Tree will be administered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
Property owners with related Joshua Tree questions are being directed to the regional Department of Fish and Wildlife Office in Ontario.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 6, 3602 Inland Empire Blvd, Suite C-220, Ontario, CA 91764
Nail salons can open, and the state modifies the rules for restaurants serving alcohol. The state has cleared nail salons to operate indoors effective immediately under all tiers in compliance with guidelines, which include the use of disposable gloves, specific disinfectant measures after each service, staggered appointments, face coverings, and other protocols to ensure the safety of both patrons and employees. The state also announced some minor loosening of restrictions on restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages. The sale of such beverages no longer needs to occur in the same transaction as a food sale. However, to qualify, a business’s primary focus must be meal service, rather than a bar or saloon.
With over 100 in attendance via Zoom, the California Fish and Game Commission pulled off an historical vote that enabled another layer of protection for the western Joshua Tree. Reporter Heather Clisby was (virtually) there …
In yesterday’s three-hour meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission unanimously approved the western Joshua Tree for the next stage of protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The vote set a new precedent within the law as it marks the first time that climate change was cited as the main threat to a species.
Increasing temperatures are forcing the Joshua Tree’s habitat northward with some foreseeing a Joshua Tree National Park without its namesake plant by the year 3000. Housing developers, realtors, community leaders and the solar industry has pushed back on additional protections citing state-mandated calls for increased housing and looming renewable energy goals.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will now study the species over the next year to see if the western Joshua Tree qualifies for “threatened” status.
The Commission then considered whether or not to grant an emergency exemption under section 2084 to allow for 15 new solar projects in Kern and San Bernardino counties despite their removal of the plants. The exemption was approved 3-1 with commission Vice President Samantha Murray voting against the exemption citing lack of details, such as the number of trees that will be destroyed or how much would be contributed to the Western Joshua Tree Mitigation Fund. (The Fund was created by the Commission to collect fees to offset damage by the 15 solar projects. Each project is slated to donate approximately $10K per acre for the purchase and preservation of the Western Joshua Tree habitat.)
“Declines are gradual, until they aren’t, right? We have seen that fires can make a big impact on our state’s landscape very quickly,” Murray said.
(The recent Dome fire in the Mojave National Preserve scorched over a million Joshua Trees covering 43,000 acres.) Murray also noted that in the 18 months since she as been on the Commission, it was the second time that the emergency exemption had been applied.
In approving the exemption, the commission cited the urgent need for renewable energy in the state and noted that the 15 “shovel-ready” projects had already completed the extensive permitting process required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The 15 projects would cover some 27,000 acres and contribute 10-20,000 megawatts of energy to the state’s power grid.
In support of the exemption, Chuck Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, addressed the Commission: “Climate change is real. It’s affecting California right now…”
“The process to consider protecting permanently western Joshua Tree under the California Endangered Species Act is underway. The very petition to protect those iconic native species argues that climate change is a primary threat to the survivability of the western Joshua Tree … This is an emergency not because of economics, but an emergency because of critical infrastructure development in a climate crisis.”
Prior to the vote, 36 people spoke their minds on the exception ruling with most calling for solar to be implemented at point-of-use areas, such as rooftops and parking lots. Basin resident Bonnie Hawthorne, whose own home is solar-powered, reminded the Commission of Nevada’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project which cost nearly a billion dollars and is now a non-functioning eyesore in bankruptcy.
Brendan Cummings, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the original petition, commented regarding solar farms, “If you have to mow down hundreds or thousands of Joshua Trees, it’s a good indicator you’ve put it in the wrong place.” Still, Cummings begrudgingly accepted 2084 as a compromise he “could live with.”
Solar industry representatives spoke up as well, pointing to the recent surge in wildfires and rolling blackouts as more reason to ramp up solar. Shannon Eddy, executive director of the Large-Scale Solar Association said, “We need look no further than the last two months to truly appreciate that California’s grid is already operating at the margins of its’ capacity and more clean energy is needed as soon as possible.”
Timothy Krantz, a botanist and professor of Environmental Studies at University of Redlands, told the Commission that trans-location of the Joshua Tree has a fairly high success rate and a cost of $500 per plant. Director Bonham later stated that an incorporation of trans-plantation could be implemented on an experimental “watch-and-learn” basis.
Fish and Game Commission member, Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, said at the meeting’s conclusion, “While I agree that emergency regulation should not be the norm, I believe that this effort exemplifies the possibilities of working together.”
The California Department of Public Health recently released guidance about how school districts can start in-person teaching of small groups, or cohorts, of students with moderate to severe disabilities. Managing editor Tami Roleff say the Morongo Unified School District board members learned some of the details about small cohort in-person instruction at last night’s meeting of the board of education…
“Now that we have been in school, we are looking at starting a pilot for these cohorts. We are starting at Yucca Mesa Elementary School; we have four classrooms there, and then at Twentynine Palms High School we have one.”
Heidi Burgett, the director of Special Education Local Plan Area, said these small cohorts will start at these two schools Monday, September 28.
“A small cohort consists of 16 individuals that can be any configuration of adults and students.”
The cohorts will follow social distancing guidelines, will wear personal protective equipment, and parents must transport their children to class themselves. The teachers will see the students 11 hours a week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is an independent study day.
“Everyone is very excited because they know their children are struggling. Children with autism or intellectual disability, they have a really hard time connecting with an individual on a flat screen and in learning.”
During public comment, about two dozen parents requested that the school district apply for a waiver to re-open the schools for in-person instruction.
Today is National Voter Registration Day. Managing editor Tami Roleff tells you how to register…
Today is National Voter Registration Day—and good-government groups say it’s more important than ever. Millions of citizens have not yet registered. So Jonathan Mehta Stein with Common Cause is working to spread the word: Every vote counts.
For a lot of low-propensity voters, limited English-speaking voters, young voters and first-time voters, they don’t even realize that voter registration is the first step to voting. And so National Voter Registration Day is an opportunity to draw everyone’s attention to the need to register to vote.
It only takes a few minutes to register at registertovote.ca.gov, or you can just register and vote on the same day at any polling place or vote center in the state. This year California became the first state to send mail-in ballots—and not just ballot request forms—to every registered voter, so people can vote from home without worrying about being exposed to COVID-19.