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One of America’s most prized landscapes has suffered severe damage, and it could be centuries before Joshua Tree National Park looks like itself.
During the 35-day partial government shutdown — the longest in US history — the nearly 800,000-acre park sustained significant damage that can’t be easily fixed. Upon surveying the aftermath, former Joshua Tree National Park superintendent Curt Sauer said the destruction from human abuse “is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years.”
Sauer specifically cited, “incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees” — the park’s iconic, namesake yucca palms.
The vandalism occurred when there was only a skeleton staff on hand to oversee the throngs of visitors. Most of the park rangers were furloughed. Joshua Tree remained opened but understaffed, and with few rangers around to patrol, the park fell victim to vandals.
According to reports, “some visitors drove their vehicles off roads, graffitied rocks, started illegal campfires and cut down some of the famed trees that lend the park its name.”
On Jan. 2, the park had to close all campgrounds because of overflowing human waste and off-leash dogs, in addition to the aforementioned issues.
Volunteers helped remove heaps of litter and repaired broken fences, but for the Joshua trees, there’s no quick fix.
Joshua trees grow between half an inch and three inches per year, and typically do not produce blossoms until they reach five to 10 feet in height.
The park, which reopened on Monday, may be once again welcoming paying campers. But the rocky, desert landscape with its cartoonish trees still has a long road to recovery.
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