Damaged Joshua tree sparks outrage as shutdown drags on

A photo of a protected Joshua tree chopped down at its base by vandals went viral Thursday as the partial government shutdown extended into its 20th day, leaving national parks unstaffed and vulnerable to damage.

The photo of the felled tree, taken by the National Park Service (NPS) in Joshua Tree National Park and later shared online, amplified calls for the parks to be closed until the government reopens.

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NPS officials said the tree was an example of many cut down by vandals who sought to drive their vehicles off the designated paths.

“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,” an NPS Tuesday press release read.

Twitter users reacted with shock and dismay to the image:

Rangers at the park reported seeing visitors stringing Christmas lights from the trees, as well as heavy off-roading. Both actions are against park rules.

Joshua Tree was one of many national parks that has experienced high levels of trash, overflowing bathrooms and habitat damage during the ongoing shutdown. While most park rangers at all national parks were sent home under the shutdown, visitor access remained.

The impacts on the 790,636-acre southern California park appear to be some of the worse.

The NPS announced on Tuesday plans to completely shutter the park, which lies near Palm Springs and Los Angeles, for several days to allow officials to address damages.

However, officials Wednesday announced NPS would ultimately avoid completely shutting down the park. Instead, portions of the park, including its campground, are to remain open as maintenance begins.

“The park will be able to maintain some visitor services, including reopening the campgrounds,” an NPS statement read. “The park will also bring on additional staff to ensure the protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred during the lapse of appropriations.”