Three Men Arrested For Trashing Death Valley Park Area and Killing Endangered Fish

la-1463144937-snap-photoWe have been discussing the scourge of graffiti and destruction by vandals in our national parks. The lack of deterrence was vividly shown by the laughable fine given to actress Vanessa Hudgens for defacing a rock wall. An exception to this dismal enforcement may be the case of three men who were caught on video drunkenly vandalizing Death Valley National Park and possibly causing the death of an endangered Devils Hole pupfish. Steven Schwinkendorf, Edgar Reyes and Trenton Sargent are all facing felony charges including killing of an endangered species, destruction of habitat, trespassing, and destruction of property. One is charged with the crime of an ex-felon possessing a firearm.

On the evening of April 30, the three men allegedly broke into the 40-acre Devils Hole Unit of Death Valley National Park. According to prosecutors, they shot at locks and the unit’s security system before trashing the area. The park rangers found cans, vomit, and a pair of “dirty” boxer shorts in the Devils Hole pool. That last disgusting item may be key to the case. The rangers have done DNA testing and also found a dead pupfish in the small pool. They also have the surveillance footage which not only shows one of the men wading in the water but also the off-road vehicle later tracked to Schwinkendorf.

240px-Cyprinodon_diabolisPolice say that the men were shooting rabbits for run before they decided to break into Devils hole. In April, there were only 115 of these fish alive . . . now 114.

You can see the surveillance video here.

34 thoughts on “Three Men Arrested For Trashing Death Valley Park Area and Killing Endangered Fish

  1. Agua:

    “In terms of the Devil’s Hole ecosystem, the pupfish is a major player fulfilling a role that no other creature on earth can perform.” It’s impossible that it’s a keystone species, like for instance krill. If we were ever down to 115 krill, entire food chains would have already collapsed by that point. The Devil’s Hole pupfish lives in a geothermal pool in a cave. So most of the ecosystem in the area wouldn’t even know it existed, let along went extinct. That is not its value.

    But such a rare species in danger of extinction is certainly special and worthy of study. It’s supposed to be the world’s rarest fish, as well as the youngest species, with estimates that it only became a separate species a few hundred years ago. So it’s very interesting to study species divergence, among other things.

    It’s not special because its a keystone species, or because the ecosystem depends on it. Rather, it’s unique in its adaptation to a very particular niche. Kind of like Darwin’s finches hyper specialized to take advantage of micro territories.

    Since it is in danger of extinction, I wonder if any are being raised in captivity to study.

  2. I think they may have difficulty proving that they killed the pupfish, but theses entitled young people certainly made a mess. I do wish that security cameras in national parks were triggered a timely response. But there are about 850,000 other things in line for spending. Perhaps if our government re-evaluated its priorities, it could save some money and put our national park jewels a bit higher on the list.

    Speaking of national parks, I recently visited Sequoia National Park. I was shocked at the number of dead trees, although thankfully all the named Sequoias, and most other mature Sequoias, were OK. At first I wondered why I was seeing fall color in the spring. Then I realized what I was looking at were great swaths of dead conifers. Park rangers told us it was due to drought and a bark beetle infestation. Hopefully the tannins produced by Sequoias will protect them. They also explained how all the pollution from San Francisco gets blown into the park, where it eddies and damages the trees. I’ve always thought San Francisco has remarkably clean air for a big city. But in reality, those strong, ubiquitous ocean breezes just blows all that city smoke inland where it pollutes pristine areas.

  3. Oh for heaven’s sake, are people really blaming Trump and Republicans because young adult are in the news, yet again, for acting thoughtless and entitled? Are they behind Vanessa Hudgins’ defacing a rock in AZ? What about all the Black Lives Matter looting? If so…then cool twist!

    What a dastardly plot! Is this like the Illuminati?

  4. Really sad to see these sorts attacks on public property and nature itself. That said, glad there were cameras on site.

    Agua – believe he/she/it was yanking your chain about the immediate response. This occurred in Death Valley National Park – doubt anyone is silly enough to expect a 5 minute response that far out. Or could believe every government national park security system should be a “cadillac” version. If they were, the outcry of wasted $’s and bloated government would be never ending.

  5. Karen,

    The pupfish, as an extremophile, is worth studying if only to understand its ability to thrive in harsh conditions. At a time when all sorts of valuable discoveries are being made from biological studies, the pupfish offers particular hope. Perhaps it can offer clues into survival on another planet.

  6. Why should drunken schlubs respect property or the law when those at the highest levels of government flout the law in the same way?

    cough***Hillary’s classified emails***cough

  7. Agua – I agree, and said something similar above, “Rather, it’s unique in its adaptation to a very particular niche. Kind of like Darwin’s finches hyper specialized to take advantage of micro territories.” 114 members also offers the opportunity to observe genetic bottleneck. It’s difficult for a population to be viable at such low numbers – there’s not enough genetic diversity to adapt if anything changes. Interestingly, a bottleneck at some point in the cheetah’s history has rendered all modern cheetahs as genetically similar as brother and sister.

    KC: There is a movement to decriminalize. The theft of anything under approximately $1000 (including guns) is now a simple misdemeanor. By removing a deterrent, there has been a 25% increase in theft. Also CA state law prohibits employees from chasing a thief once they leave the store. So there’s a get away free line. And if they do get caught, it’s just a slap on the wrist. Of course the punishment needs to fit the crime. But removing punishment and deterrent will have the obvious result of increasing lawlessness.

    As I’ve stated previously, we are so lucky to live here. I hope we don’t screw it up.

  8. Lars Vegan– It has been a federal crime for an ex felon to possess a firearm since the late 1930s. IIRC, the 1968 Gun Control Act made it a mandatory minimum of five years.

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