Story at a glance

  • A California couple who destroyed dozens of Joshua trees — which are illegal to move without a permit — has been fined nearly $20,000.
  • Authorities charged Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter with 36 misdemeanor counts for the removal of 36 trees.
  • The 36 charges each carried a potential $4,100 penalty and up to six months in jail.

A California couple who destroyed dozens of Joshua trees — which are illegal to move without a permit — has been fined nearly $20,000.

Authorities began investigating the illicit removal in January and ultimately charged Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter with 36 misdemeanor counts for the removal of 36 trees, The Los Angeles Times reported

“I would hope that the person that would otherwise take, remove, bulldoze a Joshua tree would understand that they are facing fairly significant criminal liability for doing so,” Douglas Poston, supervising deputy district attorney with the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, told The LA Times.


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The California Fish and Game Commission gave Joshua trees special endangered species protection in September, and they will remain protected until completion of a review. A neighbor reportedly told the pair that cutting down the trees is forbidden, before tipping-off authorities. But the couple, who intended to build a home on the lot, reportedly believed the trees could be cut down if they were under a particular size. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a foot tall or 20 feet tall, it’s under that protection,'' Poston told LA Times. 

Nathaniel Arnold, the deputy chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement division said in a press release residents in the tree’s habitat “revere these iconic desert species” given their “degraded population status.” 

“We hope it serves as a deterrent to others who may think it is acceptable to unlawfully remove Joshua trees to make way for development,” Arnold added, according to The Guardian


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A judge ordered on Tuesday that the couple each pay $9,000 in fines. The 36 charges each carried a potential $4,100 penalty and up to six months in jail, according to the paper. 


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Published on Jun 30, 2021