PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Bathrooms can be cleaned and trash can be picked up, but Joshua trees cut down by vandals in California cannot be put back together.
Media reports and National Parks Service photos show that several Joshua trees have been cut down since the partial government shutdown started nearly three weeks ago.
Federal laws prohibit taking or damaging national park wildlife and plants.
Park Superintendent David Smith told National Parks Traveler, a nonprofit publication, that the trees were damaged during the shutdown as people created their own dirt roads.
"There are about a dozen instances of extensive vehicle traffic off roads and in some cases into wilderness," Smith told the publication. "We have two new roads that were created inside the park. We had destruction of government property with the cutting of chains and locks for people to access campgrounds. We’ve never seen this level of out-of-bounds camping. Every day use area was occupied every evening.
"Joshua trees were actually cut down in order to make new roads.”
A park closure was set to start Thursday but was called off after officials announced that Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds would be tapped to use for park crews to address sanitation issues.
Joshua Tree National Park has remained open to drivers since the shutdown began. But campgrounds closed for about a week after a park announcement mentioned health and safety concerns. Campgrounds reopened on Thursday.
During the shutdown, with Joshua Tree National Park open but no staff on duty, visitors cut down Joshua trees so they could drive into sensitive areas where vehicles are banned.— John Upton (@johnupton) January 10, 2019
"We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving." https://t.co/EbSB4bF8hK pic.twitter.com/8kVFClVqxZ
A skeleton crew of rangers had maintained some facilities, but park staff were sent home when the shutdown began.
Fees for entering and camping aren't being collected, park officials said.
Though it's unclear the extent of damage inside the park, photos have shown graffiti and felled Joshua trees.
Native to the desert, Joshua trees often grow from a half-inch to 3 inches per year, according to the National Park Service. Some researchers have said the average lifespan for a tree is about 150 years.
Previous reporting by Colin Atagi was used in this report.
Follow Shane Newell on Twitter: @journoshane.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Some national park Joshua trees have been cut down during the government shutdown