JOSHUA TREE – Acting on a citizen’s tip to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in February 2021, a CDFW warden discovered a private land owner, wishing to develop a home, illegally destroyed 36 Joshua Trees. Joshua Trees are a candidate species for the California Endangered Species Act protection.
Through CDFW’s CalTIP Poaching and Pollution tip line, the reporting citizen explained that a local landowner was intentionally uprooting Joshua Trees to make way for home construction and was burying them on the property. A wildlife officer responded and located a freshly dug and refilled hole. His investigation involved using a backhoe to re-dig the hole where he recovered the buried Joshua Trees. The wildlife officer presented his findings to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
“I am happy to see citizens using the tip line at CDFW and appreciate the work that CDFW wardens do to investigate cases and to protect our fish, wildlife and environment,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona.
On June 7, 2021 a 36-count misdemeanor complaint was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of San Bernardino, Joshua Tree, against Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter alleging the unlawful taking (removal and killing) of 36 Western Joshua Trees. The couple were cooperative in the investigation.
On June 22, 2021, the Superior Court placed the defendants on a Pre-Trial Diversion Program. Per the agreement with the Court, each defendant will be required to pay a fine of $9,000. A portion of the fine has been previously paid, and the Defendants may earn some additional credit toward the fine by performing volunteer work for Joshua Tree National Park or the Mojave Desert Land Trust. Upon successful completion of all terms of the Pre-Trial Diversion, the Court will dismiss the case. If the terms are not complied with, the District Attorney will proceed with prosecution of the case.
Both the San Bernardino County District Attorney and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife remind the public that Western Joshua Trees remain a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act. As such, it is illegal to disturb, move, replant, remove or kill Joshua Trees. Each act of taking a Joshua Tree is a misdemeanor which carries a fine and penalty assessments of up to $4,100 and/or six months in jail.