Joshua Tree Suffered 'Irreparable' Harm During Shutdown, Could Take 300 Years to Recover: Former Supervisor

A former park supervisor condemned the impact of the recent government shutdown on California's Joshua Tree National Park at a protest rally Saturday.

Activists said that the lack of park rangers on duty left the iconic protected area open to off-roading, vandalism and illegal camping.

"What's happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years," Curt Sauer, who was park superintendent from 2003 to 2010, told locals at the rally, according to Palm Springs' Desert Sun newspaper.

Photographs of apparently vandalized Joshua trees recently sparked outrage on social media, with one user calling damage to the park "a travesty to this nation."

Officials temporarily shuttered the park on January 10 to address "sanitation, safety and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations.”

"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 statement announcing the closure read.

“You were told that the park was adequately staffed and protected,” Sauer told the rally, according to the Los Angeles Times. “That was a false statement from Washington. It was a kind of, you know, fake news.”

Sauer praised the efforts of the numerous volunteers who helped clean up trash and service bathrooms in popular areas while Joshua Tree was partially staffed. The park remained open—partially or fully—for much of the five-week shutdown.

John Lauretig, who helped look after the park with other volunteers, lamented the fact that Joshua Tree was kept open without the protection of its full staff. "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, who is executive director of the Friends of Joshua Tree nonprofit, told The Desert Sun.

“We want the government to operate appropriately, fund the parks appropriately and be open so we can have a regular, normal life," he continued.

Initially planned to protest the government shutdown, the rally attracted more than 100 attendees in spite of a bill that reopened the government Friday. Some attendees feared the possibility the government will shut down again on February 15, as President Donald Trump has warned.

"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," Lauretig suggested.

“Even as the federal government was reopened by Congress on Friday, the president has threatened another shutdown in three weeks,” Sauer told the rally, according to The Desert Times. “Happy Valentine's Day, America.”

Joshua Tree, Government Shutdown, Damage, Vandalism, California
Joshua Tree National Park after the federal government's partial shutdown caused park rangers to stay home and campgrounds to be shut at the park in California, on January 3. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images