/ Joshua Tree - consequences of the shutdown

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pasbury on 29 Jan 2019

Oh dear:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/28/joshua-tree-national-park-damage-government-shutdown

Not something I'd considered. I hope no other parks suffered damage. Though evidently Death Valley also saw off-roaders taking advantage.

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TonyB - on 04 Feb 2019
In reply to pasbury:

We were at J-Tree during the shut down and didn't see any of these problems that were reported. There were many other climbers and visitors there who were, as far as I could see, all behaving responsibly. CNN had similar reports, which were completely different to what we experienced. I don't doubt that some people did some silly stuff at some stage, but these reports are massively overhyped.

 

 

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Offwidth - on 05 Feb 2019
In reply to TonyB:

That is a pretty bizzarre atttitude to take given Joshua Tree is a legally protected area . Most of the reports of damage related to the creation of new road tracks in the park, including the felling of Joshua trees.  The desert cryptobiotic soil surface is incredibly delicate and I'd suspect the average park visitor hasn't a clue about the importance of such issues (climbers being better than most, but in my experience .... over ten trips there...  too often far from ideal... as some 'shortcuts' to climbing areas indicate). For those who are not aware backcountry travel in the park (and any other desert area) should always be on tracks, marked paths, on rock surfaces  or following the line of a wash (dried stream beds) to avoid damage to the cryptobiotic surface and the ecology it supports.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/28/joshua-tree-national-park-damage-government-shutdown

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_soil_crust

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TonyB - on 11 Feb 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

Sorry only just seen this, otherwise I would have replied earlier.

I'm sorry you think my attitude is bizarre. Let me try and explain better, as rereading my post I didn't say what I meant. I only saw a tiny part of the park, so clearly cannot comment on what has happened to the park as a whole. But we saw nobody behaving badly and we saw no signs of the damage reported. We thought that we would bring in some bags and collect trash if we saw some; but we we couldn't see any trash. 

The article says that the local community was "fed up" with the fact the park was left open during the shut down. This feels different to what we experienced. Before we visited, we called Joshua Tree Outfitters and asked their advice about travelling there. When we arrived we went to the visitor centre (which was open thanks to volunteers), they encouraged us to visit the park. On one of the days when we drove into the park, there were volunteers at the gates checking that everyone had enough water. We saw absolutely no indication that locals didn't want people visiting, and lots of indications that they did.

Any kind of damage to the desert environment is terrible. I also acknowledge that wouldn't be able to recognise the damage. But I don't think the narrative that the Guardian, Washington Post are reporting fits with my experience. Before we went, we were appalled to hear how people had behaved and planned on avoiding the area as we thought it would be depressing to experience so scant a regard for the natural environment. We met climbers at Bishop who had come from J-Tree and also NPS staff who were using the shutdown for a bouldering trip, and they suggested that we went. What we experienced was unlike what was reported. 

I wonder if there is an underlying political narrative, that is using the national parks to highlight the damage that the shutdown has caused. I think the reports paint Americans in a poor light. When (based on my experience) I would say that the opposite is true. The lady who stopped us at the gate wasn't paid to check that we had water, but did so because she must have felt it was important. Equally the people staffing the visitor centre, must have been doing it without pay as they felt that it was an important thing to do. I think these people were incredible. This positive side is completely missing from the Guardians article. 

I expect neither of us know the scale of the damage that was done. The reports all say similar things, but are quite scant on details. I can see that the person writing in the Guardian is reporting from LA, but it seems to me like the same recycled news that has been reported all over America. It is possible that the reports of damage done are exaggerated to sensationalise the story and fan the flames of a political narrative. I don't know if this is the case, but I suspect it might be.

I hope what I meant to say is clearer now. I also think the whole government shutdown is outrageous, and it's appalling that people are left without pay. The whole boarder wall is ridiculous. However, I do think that it is important that we have accurate reporting, and I wonder if the point of the Guardian article is more "look how bad the shut down is", rather than "people are not treating the natural environment as they should". 

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Colin Moody - on 08:02 Tue
In reply to TonyB:

I got this from a friend who lives there, he used to work for the parks.

'I was here and it was a mess. Not as much of a mess as the media made it out to be, but a mess none-the-less. 

The week between Xmas and New Years is one of the very busiest of the year (the others being Thanksgiving and the weeks of Spring Break). Even if the park was fully staffed, it would have been a mess. 300,000 people visited JT in the month of December alone. My guess is about 100,000 that week.

That said, it's still easy to get away from the crowds if you are willing to walk.'

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Offwidth - on 08:50 Tue
In reply to TonyB:

The Guardian report includes direct quotes from concerned locals. The park is huge and as a climber you would have no idea what is going on in the vast majority of it. The climbing areas are a few percent of the park and in my many visits and probably close to 500 climbs there are still climbing areas I've never been to. Consistently the main concern in the reports was the making of new tracks and the associated vandalism (tree cutting) that does take hundreds of years to recover from. The Guardian report says most visitors were well behaved.

At the very most in reputable newspapers  Ive seen there were a few mistakes but they were mainly caused by the park staff,  for example a certain incorrect photo in the press.

https://eu.desertsun.com/story/news/environment/2019/02/03/joshua-tree-government-shutdown-photo-cut-down-image-national-park/2755355002/

Lots more is available in the local newspaper (linked above) and other local online sources, so you can see the Guardian report  is not chinese whispers from LA as you imply.

I know the owners of JT Outfitters well so I'll discuss it with them on my next visit and try and remember to report back . Kind people who can repair all sorts of stuff, and  loan out bouldering mats etc. I doubt most businesses would be calling for the park to stay fully shut ... the passing park traffic is their livelihood. There is always going to be tension between conservation and business at such times. In the end Trump is really the person to blame as it was a staged impasse to try and get the american people to pressure for his wall funding.

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Offwidth - on 09:32 Tue
In reply to TonyB:

To be perfectly clear I did want resposnible people to visit the park during the closure. I encouraged it on another post (might even have been you). Like foot and mouth too little attention is paid in such situations to the impact on local businesses  (quite a few of those in JT are friends of mine). It's always possible to walk in to Indian Cove even if the gates are shut. We did this once after a foot of snow fell one December and got some climbs done on the sunny side of the formations. I would encourage visiting climbers to learn more about the fragile ecology and realise that some vandalism is very different from preconceptions for that word... like a new 4x4 track a first time visitor would have no idea is new.

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TonyB - on 15:27 Tue
In reply to Colin Moody:

I stand corrected. I assume that we must have seen it after much of the park had been cleaned, or that we must have been to the parts that were not so affected. I had assumed that the "problem" areas would be the most popular ones, but perhaps this is not so.

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TonyB - on 16:33 Tue
In reply to Offwidth:

You are absolutely right that I have no idea what went on in much of the park.  I think it would be really interesting to hear a balanced viewpoint, the local news report seems much more detailed. Thank you for posting this.

I thought JT was a beautiful place and continues to be. I was really impressed with the staff at JT Outfitters. I called them from the UK and they were very helpful in giving me up to date information.

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TonyB - on 16:42 Tue
In reply to Offwidth:

Thanks Offwidth, you did indeed give me advice on visiting California. I feel we were responsible. We stayed outside the park, and only went into climb during the days, stuck to the paths, tried to send hard problems and left only skin on the rock (well may be a bit of chalk too).

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