Couple dug up and buried dozens of iconic and protected Joshua Trees

Jeffrey Walter and Jonetta Nordberg-Walter are in trouble for digging up and burying three dozen Joshua trees, the iconic and protected plant native to the Southwestern United States. It's illegal to "disturb, move, replant, remove or kill" Western Joshua Trees. The couple uprooted the trees on their property—just a few miles from Joshua Tree National Park—in preparation to build a house. The residents of San Bernardino County reportedly thought it was OK because the Joshua trees were "small." Now they must pay $18,000 in fines and volunteer at the national park in order to have the 36 misdemeanor counts (one for each plant) dismissed. From CNN:

The wildlife department was tipped off to the illegal uprooting by a neighbor who called in February to alert the agency's tip line, according to [Supervising Deputy District Attorney Douglas] Poston and a joint news release from the prosecutor's office and the wildlife department.

The couple was gone by the time a responding wildlife officer arrived, but he found "what was clearly a freshly dug and refilled hole," the department said. Using a backhoe, the officer was able to dig up the buried trees, the department said.[…]

"Most California citizens who reside in Joshua Tree habitat revere these iconic desert species, more so now than ever because of its degraded population status," said Nathaniel Arnold, deputy chief of the state wildlife department's law enforcement division.