Joshua Tree lost $1 million in fees during shutdown, park chief says

Joshua Tree lost $1 million in fees during shutdown, park chief says
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Joshua Tree National Park missed out on collecting more than $1 million in entrance fees during the partial federal government shutdown, the park’s leader said Wednesday.

In an interview on WBUR’s On Point, Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith said the holiday season, which coincided with the shutdown, is a busy time for the park due to its warm Southern California climate, meaning it would have been a key time to bring in revenue from park fees.

“We had expected to bring in a little bit over $1 million during that time period,” Smith said.

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“So that’s $1 million that we didn’t collect, that we’re going to have to really look at our fund for the next eight months and decide, what projects are we going to eliminate this year, and which ones can we go forward with,” he continued, referring to the time remaining in the 2018 fiscal year.

Joshua Tree and other parks were left open during the shutdown, but with no or minimal staffing.

But the park and others got authority a few weeks into the shutdown to bring in more staff and pay them with the fee revenue they had previously collected, a move that congressional Democrats and conservationists criticized as short-sighted.

Smith said his staff hasn’t finished its accounting, but estimates that the park used between $200,000 and $300,000 of such funds to pay maintenance staff, rangers and other employees during the shutdown.

Joshua Tree became a national symbol of the shutdown earlier in January when a photo went viral of a Joshua tree that someone had cut down. The trees take hundreds of years to mature.

In the interview, Smith detailed other impacts from keeping the park open for five weeks with minimal staff: a handful of Joshua trees were damaged or cut, some juniper trees — which also take hundreds of years to grow — were damaged and used for firewood, some acacia trees were damaged and parkgoers made about 24 miles of new roads in the sensitive desert ecosystem.

“That, for me, is one of the biggest long-term damages to the park, was the creation of new roads and the folks driving across the desert landscape,” he said.

But while it will take centuries for some park resources to fully recover, staff have started the process, which includes raking vegetation onto the trails to help rebuild damaged ground.

“If you are able to make it out to California and visit the park, it’s going to look pretty pristine like you’d expect your park to look,” Smith said.