Joshua trees, parks fall 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.
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 law-enforcement rangers are patrolling the landscape in the shutdown, National Parks Traveler, a nonprofit dedicated to news about national parks, reported.
Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith told the nonprofit that visitors have been illegally off-roading, cutting down trees and spray-painting 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.”
“The true issue is that people ... think that they own the park,” the 55-year-old 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.