Private properties in the desert preserve have a long and checkered history. It’s possible to still buy a parcel today – but building is near impossible.
Individuals can still buy a parcel here or elsewhere in the park on occasion. Eminent domain—when the government takes land from an unwilling seller—is rarely used on inholdings in national parks or forests. On federal lands in the West, a “willing seller only” policy usually prevails, meaning the owners can sell to the government, or anyone they choose. The government typically does not have a right of first refusal.
The Mojave Desert Land Trust and other preservation groups work with willing sellers to acquire properties inside or at the parks’ boundaries and hold them until the cash-strapped park system can afford to acquire them.
Park officials don’t track private land sales inside Joshua Tree’s boundaries: With about 100 staff for millions of visitors annually, there are more urgent needs. But “that is one of the great parts of having a partner like the Mojave Desert Land Trust, which is constantly monitoring and tracking land sales and properties that go into default in the national parks,” said Theuer. “It takes a village.”