More than 800,000 workers are furloughed during the current government shutdown, which has been in effect since Dec. 21. As a result, many of the nation’s parks have been left unprotected.
One of the most glaring effects is in Joshua Tree National Park, where the namesake trees are being destroyed by visitors, causing the park to announce a temporary closure (which was later averted "by immediately utilizing revenue generated by recreation fees").
"There have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days," park officials said in a statement. The park was able to use Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to bring in maintenance crews to address the ongoing issues at the park.
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.
"We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving."https://t.co/EbSB4bF8hKpic.twitter.com/8kVFClVqxZ
Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith told National Parks Traveler there were about a dozen cases of "extensive vehicle traffic off roads," where "once 20 or 30 cars would go over it you would essentially have a new road created in pristine desert."
"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," Smith said. "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.”
Only eight law enforcement officers have been patrolling the 1,234-square-mile park during the government shutdown, according to National Parks Traveler. There are normally more than 100 employees on duty when the park is fully staffed.
In addition to cutting down the trees, visitors to the park have "fought over official campsites and driven through off-limit areas to create illegal encampments. They have littered, set illegal fires, defecated in the wild, and chopped down vegetation to drive around barriers intended to keep people out of sensitive wildlife corridors," the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Officials at Joshua Tree National Park say some of the iconic trees and landscape have been damaged by visitors and motorists during the government shutdown.https://t.co/R5stQeFX6Opic.twitter.com/G52wWOKhcK— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics)January 10, 2019
Local volunteers have taken action to help clean up the park, like 55-year-old paraplegic veteran Rand Abbott, who told the LA Times he confronted a group of visitors who used a chain to cut down a Joshua tree and a pine tree for firewood.
"The park expresses its appreciation for the contributions of local volunteers, who provided basic sanitation at campgrounds and other closed areas during the lapse in appropriations. Their efforts have contributed significantly to the reopening of campgrounds and restoring access to other closed areas of Joshua Tree National Park," park officials said in a statement.RELATED: Businesses offering deals, freebies and flexible payments for government employees during shutdown
Due to the environment necessary for Joshua trees to thrive, the trees are at risk of being affected by climate change in the coming years. The park alone may lose many of its trees by 2100 due to rising temperatures, according to a researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz. City and county ordinances protect the trees, which are also protected within the Mojave National Preserve.
I don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican, what's going on at Joshua Tree National Park is a travesty to this nation. True Americans don't destroy and trash our National Parks just because no one's looking., only thugs and criminals do.https://t.co/KdWMCwXQZipic.twitter.com/obhSgVf9N7— AI6YR (@ai6yrham)January 10, 2019]]>
Joshua trees can be huge, more than 32 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 12 feet. It can be hard to tell their age because they don't have rings like other species of trees, but one Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park is estimated to be about 900 years old.
Joshua Tree National Park is far from the only park affected by understaffing during the government shutdown -- visitors reportedly spread feces across campgrounds at Yosemite National Park and many parks are covered in trash. According to USA Today, the parks are losing millions of dollars daily during the shutdown. Nonprofits like the Parks Restoration Fund, as well as state governments and private donors, are pitching in to help out with cleanup.