11:15 AM PDT, June 30, 2021
A California couple has been fined $18,000 after uprooting 36 protected Joshua trees and burying them in a hole to clear the land for a house.
This has been a crime since 2020 when the California Fish & Wildlife Commission made the tree a candidate for an endangered species.
A Morongo Basin resident called the CalTip poaching and pollution tip line — a line run by the state Fish & Wildlife Department — to report the ongoing infraction, according to the Hi-Desert Star.
The couple, Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter, face 36 misdemeanor charges — one for each tree they removed.
Each misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to six months in prison and $4,100 in fines — they were fined $9,000 each and the San Bernardino county superior court placed the couple on a pre-trial diversion program.
“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.” Nathaniel Arnold, the deputy chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s law enforcement division said in a press release.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the couple could earn credit toward the fine if they volunteer for Joshua Tree National Park, or the Mojave Desert Land Trust.