Park rangers furloughed during the 35-day government shutdown are back to work at Joshua Tree National Park with plenty of damage to repair. With a sharply reduced crew at work during the shutdown, "a few vandals or people acting out of ignorance" took vehicles off road, knocked over gates and posts, and left garbage scattered, John Lauretig of the nonprofit Friends of Joshua Tree tells the New York Times. There's not much humans can do about the worst damage, however. A small number of the park's spiky-leafed Joshua trees appear to have been cut down or driven over, and it could take centuries for them to regrow to maturity. "What's happened to our park ... is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years," former park superintendent Curt Sauer says, per the Palm Springs Desert Sun.
"While it is unlikely the effects will last for as long as 300 years, the damage is long term," a park service rep countered in an email to Motherboard that contained this factoid: "The tracks left by General George Patton on the desert training grounds in 1942 are still visible in the park today." How long it takes the trees to reach maturity is a bit of a guessing game. The trees grow slowly—one-half inch to three inches per year—and without rings. Age is generally estimated by using the tree's height, but the park notes growth isn't linear; the first five years can see more rapid growth, followed by a years-long slowdown. "In a dry year it might not grow at all," says Lauretig. (Other parks had poop problems.)