Joint News Release between the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and California Department of Fish and Wildlife

(Originally released on June 24, 2021)


What started as a citizen’s tip culminated in an investigation revealing the destruction of 36 Joshua Trees by a private landowner wishing to develop a home in the namesake city of Joshua Tree, San Bernardino County. Joshua Trees are a candidate species for the California Endangered Species Act protection.

The investigation began Feb. 11, 2021, with a citizen tip through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) CalTIP Poaching and Pollution tip line. The reporting party 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 although the suspects had left the scene, he located what was clearly 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.

“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 CDFW Law Enforcement Division. “We’re pleased to see the citizen tip led to a successful disposition and 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.”

On June 7, 2021 a thirty-six-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 thirty-six Western Joshua Trees.  The Defendants in this matter 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.


DA Case Number: 2021-00-0014184
Court Case Number: MMB21000897 and MMB21000898
View Case Information Online
View Charging Document


Any questions, please contact:

Douglas Poston
Supervising Deputy District Attorney
San Bernardino County District Attorney
Morongo Basin Office

Patrick Foy
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Published by:
Tera Sorensen