Joshua trees and parks vic­tim to shut­down

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Allyson Chiu The Wash­ing­ton Post

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.”

BRAD SUT­TON/NA­TIONAL PARK SER­VICE

A Joshua tree is sil­hou­et­ted at the Cal­i­for­nia park where some of the pro­tected tree have been felled or dam­aged.

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