By Mohammad Raza
Joshua Tree National Park temporarily closed early Thursday morning, Jan.10, with CNN reporting that their toilets were “near-capacity,” resulting in “human waste in public areas.” In addition, Park Service said that people were driving off-road and destroying the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. These events come as a result of the recent government shutdown, the longest in American history. The debate regarding funding for President Trump’s promised southern wall began Dec. 22 and came to a climax with a quarter of the government shutting down, Washington Post reports. Now, more than 25 days later, 800,000 government employees, the economy and dozens of public services around the country are caught in Washington’s crossfire.
With no end in sight, national parks, including Joshua Tree, have been scrambling to maintain order. National Parks Traveler, a nonprofit dedicated to news about national parks, reported a team of only eight rangers patrolling the vast 1,200-square-mile-desert, making vandalism prevention and protection of natural resources incredibly difficult. National Parks Traveler chronicled visitors creating illegal roads, disrupting fragile habitats, and vandalizing federal property.
Graffiti has been found on rocks, and trash, dirt and ash from fires litter the grounds. The popular namesake of the park, the Joshua trees, were also severely damaged, resulting in backlash from conservationists via social media.
According a recent study done by UC Santa Cruz, the Joshua tree species is set to go extinct by 2100 due to climate change and rising temperatures in the desert. With visitors disrupting and destroying the tree and climate change causing their decline, the country’s ecological heritage is in danger. Researchers also mention the importance of the Joshua tree in the desert habitat, explaining that destruction causes “a reverberation through the entire ecosystem.”
CNN reports that local and national volunteer groups, such as The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, have joined efforts to help clean up the park. Citizens, like paraplegic rock climber Rand Abbot, have also contributed to the clean up efforts during the shut down. Abbot has spent roughly $5,000 alone on cleaning supplies like bleach rags and garbage bags to aid volunteers.
Park officials wrote in their press release that, “Park officials are identifying the additional staff and resources needed to address immediate maintenance and sanitation issues and will utilize funds from the park fees to address those issues per the recently updated National Park Service contingency plan during a lapse in appropriations.”
Joshua Tree has since reopened with additional staff, but with money running out, activists and rangers are hoping they can keep order until funding resumes.