A San Bernardino County couple was fined $18,000 for bulldozing 36 protected Joshua trees to build a home.
A neighbor tipped off the California Department of Fish and Wildlife tipped off on the trees’ removal in February, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A state wildlife officer later found the trees buried in a freshly covered hole. The couple, Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter, ultimately had the trees dug back up.
The county district attorney’s office filed 36 misdemeanor charges — one for each tree — against Walter and Nordberg-Walter.
The western Joshua Tree has been protected by state law only since last fall, when the California Fish and Game Commission gave it temporary endangered species status pending a yearlong review for permanent endangered status.
The couple believed that western Joshua Trees under a certain diameter could be legally removed, according to Douglas Poston with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
“But that’s not accurate, obviously,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a foot tall or 20 feet tall, it’s under that protection.”
A judge on Tuesday put the two in a diversion program. They can earn credit toward their fines through volunteer work at Joshua Tree National Park or Mojave Desert Land Trust.
[LAT] — Dennis Lynch