Essential California: California’s Joshua tree isn’t threatened, state scientists say

A Joshua tree
California’s famed Joshua trees aren’t threatened with extinction, state scientists said. The trees were named for the biblical figure Joshua by Mormons traveling through the Cajon Pass back to Utah in 1857.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, April 14, and I’m your guest host, Sarah Parvini. I’m writing from Los Angeles.

California’s famed Joshua trees aren’t threatened with extinction, according to state scientists.

State biologists on Wednesday recommended against designating the western Joshua tree as threatened with extinction, saying that claims in a petition filed by environmentalists about the effects that climate change will have on the living symbols of the California desert are premature.


As my colleague Louis Sahagún reports, the state Fish and Game Commission’s final decision on a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity is expected in June. If the western Joshua tree isn’t listed as threatened, local jurisdictions would have the power to set limits on development of commercial, residential and solar and wind projects across thousands of acres of land that increasingly host Airbnbs and transplanted city folk.

The western Joshua tree is one of two genetically distinct species that occur in California. The tree “is currently abundant and widespread,” wrote the authors of a 158-page analysis made public Wednesday. This abundance “substantially lowers the threat of extinction within the foreseeable future,” the document said.

But advocates of listing the trees as threatened rejected state biologists’ recommendations.

“Put another way — when the Titanic hit the iceberg, the ship’s captain didn’t wait until nearly every one on board had drowned to issue an SOS,” said Brendan Cummings, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity and a resident of the San Bernardino County desert community of Joshua Tree. “But that is essentially what state biologists are asking us to do with western Joshua trees in distress.”

(Read the story: “California Joshua tree is not threatened, regulators say. It could bring more development” in the Los Angeles Times.)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Counselor who didn’t report abuse of Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos put on four-year probation. The state Board of Behavioral Sciences placed Barbara Dixon, a licensed marriage and family therapist, on probation and required her to participate in psychotherapy, law and ethics training, and coursework in child abuse assessment. The deaths of the two young boys spotlighted egregious lapses in the region’s child welfare system. Los Angeles Times


Inflation looms large in Biden’s approval rating. Roughly 6 in 10 California voters give President Biden poor marks on his handling of inflation, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, even as his overall job approval rating marginally improved in the last two months. Los Angeles Times

Hotel housekeepers lost jobs during the pandemic. They may not be coming back. The labor union Unite Here, which represents 300,000 hospitality workers in North America, estimates that the hotel industry’s plan to make daily room cleaning an exception rather than the norm at many properties could cost nearly 181,000 jobs and $4.8 billion in annual lost wages. Capital & Main

California reparations panel convenes at historic African American church. The first-in-the-nation reparations task force met in San Francisco, working to educate the public and develop a restitution proposal for the people harmed by the institution of slavery. Associated Press


A transgender psychologist has helped hundreds of teens transition. But rising numbers have her concerned. Erica Anderson is one of the few clinical psychologists specializing in transgender youth to publicly question the sharp rise in adolescents coming out as trans or nonbinary. But she has come to believe that some children identifying as trans are falling under the influence of their peers and social media and that some clinicians are failing to subject minors to rigorous mental health evaluations before recommending hormones or surgeries. Los Angeles Times

L.A. Latinos used to have a lower death rate than white residents. Not anymore. For the first time in the last decade, the mortality rate for Latinos in Los Angeles County became worse than that of white residents, starting in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — and worsened the next year. Los Angeles Times

Day laborers pay a steep price working in California fire zones. Workers say that laboring in the fields has become increasingly dangerous, and during bad fire days, their ability to work quickly declines. Their throats and eyes burn from smoke and fumes released by blazes, pickers say, and they see the amount they can harvest decline. In the most dangerous conditions, workers get paid less rather than more per day. Capital & Main


A top lawyer for the state of California quits over allegation that Newsom’s office meddled in Activision case. The allegation and loss of the top two lawyers on the case raises questions about the fate of the Activision lawsuit, which accuses the video game publisher of sexual discrimination and misconduct. Bloomberg


Is graduation regalia priceless or just overpriced? The cost and accessibility of caps, gowns, stoles, hoods and tams depends on where you study. Some students get creative with how they pay for the attire. LAist


A tiny California town with fewer than two dozen residents has been sold. Again. Nipton, in San Bernardino County, has railroad tracks on one side and a Joshua tree forest on the other in the Mojave National Preserve. KLAS

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Los Angeles: Sunny and 70. San Diego: Partly cloudy and 66. San Francisco: Rainy, 57. San Jose: Showers and 63 . Fresno: Partly cloudy and 71. Sacramento: Showers, 58.

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Today’s California memory comes from Elaine Lopez Cassingham:

I grew up in Pico Rivera. I came from a large Mexican American family with aunts, uncles and cousins on the same cul-de-sac. My fondest memory is as a teenager in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s sitting under the streetlight on hot summer nights chatting with my cousins and friends. If a friend cruising down Passons saw us out, they would turn into the street and join us. We also played hide and seek and had volleyball games. A simple rope tied from two trees was our net. Our parents used to come outside and watch. It was idyllic.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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