Yosemite National Park is right up there with the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains when it comes to awe-inspiring landscapes in America. The park’s striking cliffs, waterfalls, and towering forests have been captured by dozens of iconic photographers, and every year, millions of visitors traipse through the wilderness to recreate these images for themselves. But it’s been more than 70 years since Ansel Adams captured Yosemite’s beauty and needless to say, nature changes. Nature changes so much, in fact, that the park’s most sought-after views are being obstructed by nature itself. The park’s solution? Chop down thousands of trees to let those cameras keep on clicking.
Wildlife officials at the park say that the problem trees are Yosemite’s iconic ponderosa pines and cedars, which grow tall and fast, choking out other trees and overtaking meadows. The cause, ironically, is a lack of fires in the park. Before Abraham Lincoln set aside the land of Yosemite for protection in 1864, fires set by Native Americans or ignited by lightning kept a natural balance between the oak trees, pines, and grass meadows. But for more than 150 years now, we’ve been putting out those natural wildfires, and the massive trees have grown unnaturally thick and are taking away the park’s historic views.
The National Parks Service says that the views need to be preserved, just like historic buildings and wildlife refuges. However, the decision has perplexed and angered park goers, environmentalists, and even photographers, who don’t understand why you would kill part of a magnificent natural landscape just for the sake of a photo op. When all is said and done, about 1000 evergreen trees are expected to be chopped, some that are more than 30 inches round and 100 feet tall.
Park officials have spent more than three years studying Yosemite’s 181 scenic vista spots, and found that in 28 percent of the locations, the view was completely obscured, and in 54 percent it was partially blocked. The park’s ideal solution calls for removing or thinning trees in 93 of the locations over the next ten years. Cutting would begin in 2012 and only take place in September and October, which is after bird nesting season, but before bat hibernation begins. No trees older than 130 years would be cut.
“We are looking to remove the minimum number of trees in the most ecologically sensitive ways,” said Kevin McCardle, a historical landscape architect at Yosemite. “We have to find a balance because we are preserving these places for the enjoyment of the public and future generations. Enjoyment means allowing people to connect with nature. But you have to be able to see it.”
Next month, the park will release its official “Scenic Vista Management Plan,” outlining the full details.
Lead image © chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons