Officials at Joshua Tree National Park say some of the park’s protected Joshua trees have been chopped down by visitors and motorists due to a lack of staff during the government shutdown.
A post by National Parks Traveler, an independent news site about national parks, reveals the extent of the damage the park has sustained during the past several weeks. Beyond the destroyed trees, visitors have left graffiti, piles of garbage, and gone off-roading through “pristine desert,” according to park superintendent David Smith.
During the shutdown, with Joshua Tree National Park open but no staff on duty, visitors cut down Joshua trees so they could drive into sensitive areas where vehicles are banned.
— John Upton (@johnupton) January 10, 2019
In some cases, the iconic spiky-leaved trees were reportedly cut down so off-roaders could get around barriers.
“We have two new roads that were created inside the park. We had destruction of government property with the cutting of chains and locks for people to access campgrounds. We’ve never seen this level of out-of-bounds camping,” Smith told the nonprofit news organization.
“They would just go out into the country, and then once 20 or 30 cars would go over it you would essentially have a new road created in pristine desert,” Smith explained.
With far fewer rangers patrolling the park’s 1,200 square miles of desert landscape, preventing vandalism and damage has been a challenge. Only eight law enforcement rangers have been working through the shutdown.
“While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure,” the park said in a statement announcing it planned to close Thursday morning.