On Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a formal petition from wildlife protection group WildEarth Guardians to change the status of Joshua trees to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, according to a press release from WildEarth Guardians. Joshua trees exist primarily in the Southwest, where major droughts and widespread fires have plagued the landscape in past years. The trees are at particular risk because they spread and reproduce slowly, making it difficult for them to move to new habitats.
“Joshua trees are an irreplaceable part of the Southwest and we must protect them,” Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate at WildEarth Guardians, said in the release. “Because Joshua trees grow so slowly, they cannot quickly adjust to our changing climate and will need safeguards to ensure they are here for future generations.”
Joshua trees require cold and wet periods to reproduce and disperse. Some research shows that Joshua tree populations could diminish by up to 90 percent by 2100.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must respond to the petition within 90 days, according to federal law, by creating a plan to continue studying the trees or announcing that protection isn’t needed, KCET reports.