As shutdown drags on, vandals chop down protected Joshua tree in unstaffed national park

This Thursday, an image of a felled Joshua tree taken by the National Parks Service (NPS) went viral, prompting calls for national parks to be closed to the public as the government shutdown enters into its 20th day.

The photo shows the tree chopped off at its base in Joshua Tree National Park in California, the result of parks remaining unstaffed and susceptible to damage. According to NPS officials, the tree wasn’t the only one cut down by people looking to drive their vehicles into protected areas.

“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,” a press release from NPS read.

From The Hill:

Rangers at the park reported seeing visitors stringing Christmas lights from the trees, as well as heavy off-roading. Both actions are against park rules.

Joshua Tree was one of many national parks that has experienced high levels of trash, overflowing bathrooms and habitat damage during the ongoing shutdown. While most park rangers at all national parks were sent home under the shutdown, visitor access remained.

The impacts on the 790,636-acre southern California park appear to be some of the worse.

The NPS announced on Tuesday plans to completely shutter the park, which lies near Palm Springs and Los Angeles, for several days to allow officials to address damages.

However, officials Wednesday announced NPS would ultimately avoid completely shutting down the park. Instead, portions of the park, including its campground, are to remain open as maintenance begins.

As a result of the shutdown, there are reportedly just eight law enforcement rangers monitoring the park, which covers 1,235 square miles and has about 20 different entrances. If not for the shutdown, there would have been more than 100 other “sets of eyes” to help keep an eye on visitor behavior, according to park superintendent David Smith.

“We have 120 employees in the park, plus 30 associates that work for Great Basin Institute, the majority of whom are in the park every day,” Smith said. “Those are the folks that are in the campgrounds and in the day-use areas and doing science. So you’ve got 100 sets of eyes in the park every day with folks contacting visitors.”

Featured image via NPS

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