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It could take Joshua Tree National Park up to 300 years to recover from damage it sustained during the partial government shutdown, a former park superintendent said Saturday.
Curt Sauer, who retired as Joshua Tree’s superintendent in 2010, spoke to a group of some 100 park advocates who gathered on Saturday in protest the environmental and economic effects on Joshua Tree during the shutdown.
“What’s happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years,” Sauer said, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun.
The announcement was a clear concession on his part, temporarily shelving his demands for $5.7 billion in funds for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border ― a project Democratic lawmakers firmly rejected. The short-term deal came on the 35th day of the shutdown, the longest in United States history, and after over 800,000 federal workers had already missed two paychecks. (Trump promised the affected workers would get back pay “very quickly or as soon as possible.)
He said he is prepared to shut down the government again if funding for his border wall is not secured by the end of the negotiation period.
The U.S. economy may never recover $3 billion lost during the shutdown, according to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office.
The political gridlock in Washington, D.C., also affected the country’s many national parks, which were left open during the shutdown.
National parks typically close during government shutdowns, but the Trump administration decided to keep them open, leaving them understaffed and vulnerable to misuse for over a month.
Just eight rangers were on hand to oversee Joshua Tree’s sprawling 790,636 acres during the shutdown. Spokesman George Land said in a statement this month that the park witnessed “incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees.”
With the gates open and minimal staffing, 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.
Joshua trees grow just 1/2 to 3 inches a year and usually reach about 5 to 10 feet before they start to produce blossoms, according to the National Park Service. The tallest tree in the park rises to a whopping 40 feet.
“Some researchers think an average lifespan for a Joshua tree is about 150 years, but some of our largest trees may be much older than that,” the NPS says on its website.
John Lauretig, who runs the Friends of Joshua Tree nonprofit, was one of a host of local volunteers who picked up the slack, cleaning overflowing toilets and trash areas and providing other basic maintenance work.
“The local community is fed up with our parks being held hostage and the fact that it’s open and partially staffed is not good for the park, it’s not good for the public and it’s not good for the local community here,” Lauretig said at Saturday’s rally. “If the government doesn’t fund or staff the parks appropriately, then they should just close the parks to protect the parks and protect the people.”
The NPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Joshua Tree is a place of haunting natural beauty, a place where the American West and its associated longings and fantasies are manifested.
But there’s a deceptiveness to the hard, craggy stones, spiky trees and barren-seeming landscape.
Casey Schreiner, a journalist who works to educate people on how to responsibly enjoy the West Coast’s natural beauty, told The New York Times’ California Today column this month that desert ecosystems are more fragile than they look.
Deserts are home to delicate flora dependent on a fine layer of cryptobiotic soil that, as he told the Times, “can take literally thousands of years to form and can be crushed with a single footprint.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.