Stealing Joshua trees could now result in up to $20,000 fines in San Bernardino County.
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved increasing the fines for the “unlawful removal” of Joshua trees in the county.
Once the ordinance is adopted, the base fine for stealing the iconic, twisted desert trees will be up to $5,000 for a first conviction, up to $10,000 for a second conviction, and up to $20,000 for a third conviction or up to six months in jail.
Previously, the misdemeanor was punishable by a much lower, $1,000 fine.
The county is levying the new fines in an attempt to protect western Joshua trees in the region.
A March review by the Department of Fish and Wildlife found that while western Joshua trees are relatively widespread and abundant in California, the tree’s population has declined over the past few decades — largely due to habitat modification and destruction, climate change, wildfire and human activities.
With rising temperatures, habitat suitable for the trees within Joshua Tree National Park is predicted to shrink by 80% by the end of the century, according to a June 2019 study by UC Riverside researchers.
Wildfires in the habitats could also threaten populations of Joshua trees, which are not fire adapted, according to the National Park Service.
“This reduction in areas with 20th century suitable climate conditions in combination with other threats to the species is expected to have negative effects on the abundance of western Joshua tree and is substantial cause for concern,” Fish and Wildlife researchers wrote in the review.
Still, the department’s officials said listing the western Joshua tree as a threatened species is not warranted.
However, San Bernardino County officials said they find that the western Joshua tree “provides a significant psychological and tangible benefit for both residents and visitors to the County that are deserving of additional management regulations to protect and preserve the western Joshua tree from the hazards.”