California couple fined $18,000 for destroying Joshua trees


A California-based couple, Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter, face a fine of $18,000 after uprooting 36 Joshua trees to build a new house. The couple was fined after an anonymous neighbor sent a tip to the California Fish and Wildlife Department. The neighbor is said to have witnessed the trees being bulldozed and buried during the construction of the new home.

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Uprooted Joshua trees in a desert neighborhood.

According to California Fish and Wildlife Department officials, the neighbor had warned the Morongo Basin couple about the consequences of bulldozing the trees, but the couple ignored the warning. Joshua trees are protected in California, and anyone found cutting them is likely to be sued. 

Related: California votes to protect Joshua trees

Nathaniel Arnold, deputy chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement division, said that protecting the endangered Joshua trees depends on locals who are passionate about the species. “Most California citizens who reside in Joshua Tree habitat revere these iconic desert species, more so now than ever because of its degraded population status,” Arnold said.

Arnold commended the work done by the resident who out the tip about the destruction of Joshua trees. He says that such a move could serve as a deterrent to those who wish to destroy the trees. “We’re pleased to see the citizen tip led to a successful disposition and 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.

California wildlife officials are now considering having Joshua trees protected under the Endangered Species Act. Global warming has made it almost impossible for Joshua trees to thrive.

In 2020, California’s Dome wildfire consumed over 43,000 acres of Joshua tree woodland. Based on the National Park Service data, this single event led to the destruction of about 1.3 million Joshua trees. There are also many documented incidences where fires or individuals have led to the destruction of Joshua trees. In 2019, Joshua Tree National Park was closed temporarily following increased instances of Joshua tree destruction.

Following the latest ruling, Walter and Nordberg-Walter were required by the court to each pay $9,000 for the destroyed trees. However, they can earn credit toward the fine if they volunteer at Joshua Tree National Park or the Mojave Desert Land Trust.

Via Washington Post

Images via San Bernardino County District Attorney



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