Joshua trees and parks victim to shutdown
In most depictions, Joshua trees tower above the earth. Feathery-looking limbs topped with spiky green leaves twist skyward, completing the gangly succulent’s striking appearance.
But now, viral photos of these protected trees show a vastly different scene unfolding at Joshua Tree National Park, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.
The trees in the photos have been felled and are lying on the dusty ground — and Park Service officials say people are to blame.
Shared widely on social media, the photos have sparked outrage over the plight of national parks that remain open amid a partial government shutdown, leaving them understaffed and vulnerable to the antics of unruly visitors. Parks nationwide have struggled to deal with a variety of issues ranging from ramp- ant littering and overflowing public restrooms to the vandalism of habitats.
“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, what’s going on at Joshua Tree National Park is a travesty to this nation,” one person tweeted.
In the course of the shutdown, conditions at Joshua Tree National Park have worsened, prompting Park Service officials to schedule a temporary closure to “allow park staff to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations.”
The park spans more than 1,200 square miles, straddling the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert, but only eight lawenforcement rangers are patrolling the landscape in the shutdown, National Parks Traveler, a nonprofit dedicated to news about national parks, reported.
“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 Serv- ice release said.
On Wednesday, the Park Service announced that it would be able to remain open by using funds from recreation fees.
Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith told the nonprofit that visitors have been illegally off-roading, cutting down trees and s p ray- p a i n t i n g rocks, among other infractions.
Rand Abbott, a resident of the town of Joshua Tree, has frequented the park since the 1980s, and said seeing the damaged trees was “devastating.”
Aside from being one of the park’s most recognizable features, Joshua trees are at risk of being affected by climate change. Researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz found that Joshua Tree National Park is on track to lose most of its Joshua tree habitat to rising temperatures by 2100, according to a September study published in Ecosphere, an open access journal affiliated with the Ecological Society of America.
Since the shutdown began, Abbott, a paraplegic veteran, told The Washington Post that he has gone to the protected area almost every day to clean bathrooms, pick up trash and “kindly persuade people to not destroy the park.”
“The true issue is that people ... think that they own the park,” the 55-yearold said. “They don’t own it. They’re guests in the park.”
A Joshua tree is silhouetted at the California park where some of the protected tree have been felled or damaged.