Yosemite To Chop Down Thousands of Trees To Preserve Iconic Views

by , 07/27/11

Yosemite Natioal Park, Yosemite Natioal Park trees, Yosemite Natioal Park views, cutting down trees in yosemite, yosemite trees, preserving yosemite views

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.

Should Yosemite chop down trees to preserve its scenic views?

  • 324 Votes No way! Destroying nature for a photo op is ridiculous.
  • 85 Votes Certainly. The views are part of the park's character and history.

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Yosemite Natioal Park, Yosemite Natioal Park trees, Yosemite National Park views, cutting down trees in yosemite, yosemite trees, preserving yosemite viewsImage © Amanda Walker via Creative Commons

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.

Via Good and Mercury News

Lead image © chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. treeline January 30, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    This poll and article are just bad. I happen to live and work in Yosemite with the Mountaineering School, Interpretive Services, NPS AND as a sponsored athlete. I also have extensive learning in California Ethnobotany and I can tell you that this forest is not healthy and needs to be thinned. Regular, low intensity wildfires are a NECESSARY part of this forest ecology. These trees are not just fire adapted – they are fire dependent. When you suppress wildfire for 100 years as forest service did, then the only way to reverse the damage is through mechanical thinning and controlled burns. The view has little or nothing to do with it and is just a secondary benefit resulting from standard management. Ask any of the old natives like ‘Julia Parker’ who likes to tell stories of how when she was a child she could see from one end of the valley to the other without obstruction. It is depressing to them how thick the forest has become – how the old oaks are dying and the wildlife balance has been drastically upset. How meadow succession is unnaturally accelerated skipping the establishment of nitrogen fixing species such as the Willows.

    Ansel Adams in a video I recently saw is standing at inspiration point and says “from this perspective not a single work of man can be seen” – but he was wrong. That unnaturally thick, Ponderosa dominant forest (as seen in the photo from this article) – is indeed man made.

  2. Litchfield August 4, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I am a hiking guide in southwestern New England. I come from a family of environmentalists (several older brothers were ex-hippies and still hold on tight to may of those ideals in their modern lives). I also feel strongly about most issues that promote “green”. However, there are simply too many damn trees now. lol. It’s to the point of becoming completely ridiculous going out for hikes and seeing nothing but trees. The Connecticut and Massachusetts section of Appalachian Trail should just be renamed “Trees”. The last 70 years an entire new forest as sprouted up everywhere (including congested suburbia). Trees the last 20 years have begun to take over and put in a full canopy over everything. It’s beyond boring for mile after mile after mile after mile. More importantly, it’s not healthy forest. It’s just random growth as a result of early settlers, logging, farming, iron ore and charcoal harvesting, industrial revolution, rural factory economies, private property turn-over for many generations, back to some farming, then a full collapse off all those industries leaving things to grow wild. That was/is fantastic news! However, there seems to be a feeling of going in the other direction to the point where trees are an obsession with people in almost an OCD way. Our forests in southwestern NE aren’t even legitimate floor to canopy forests as one would think of forest. They’re not natural and eventually invasive disease/bugs will take a lot of it away simply due to lack of variety or healthy ecosystem. At this point, there are hardly any reptiles, mammals, birds, rodents, and larger animals that used to dominate a healthy forest. It’s a rare “wow!” moment to see creatures that one would routinely see even 25 years ago. I see more wildlife in my suburban backyard than I would hiking through these thick forests. Bears, raccoons, deer, skunks, crows – and all sorts of others – prefer civilization over these forests. Even they seem sick of these damn trees!! It’s literally like endless fields of weeds of a few certain types. It’s more like a giant tree farm than a forest. It needs to be managed to fix it back to the way it once was. And it needs to be managed to inspire people. So much of the American spirit came from awe and astonishment of the beauty of things. The physical beauty of American landscapes inspired artistic movements that changed the world for the good (music, painting, poetry, short stories, photography, philosophy, etc.). There once was great variety and that included human-made views and vistas that world-class painters and writers used to flow their creative juices. There used to be wonderful views that would make you sit and stare in peace and wonder for hours. There are NONE of those type of fews. There are some…some…decent views and when you get one they are nice. But I clearly remember jaw-dropping views at various vantage points as well as wonderful views of little downtowns from hilltops that overlooked them (Norman Rockwell became world famous replicating the scenes of these towns). I challenge anyone to find a magnificent view from a hilltop overlooking a western CT town…which has some of the nicest small towns snugged into little valleys that you’ll find anywhere. It’s rare to come across a large open field on a hike. It’s extremely rare to get a long distance view where farm country and open fields dot the thicket of trees that blanket southern NE. You’d need advanced Photoshop skills to recreate those scenes now due to the incredible amount of tree cover. When I asked an A.T. trail keeper about volunteering to help clear 4 or 5 trees at an old favorite vantage point, I was looked at as if I had asked to remove the kidney of a child. That person knows, as well as I do, that there has to be 20 million trees surrounding these 4 or 5 trees in the middle of nowhere. Yet his attitude was “this is my forest and we’re going to do this MY way”. I was told they only cut trees in rare cases and only using methods used in the 17th century (a lame excuse not to use efficient and proper chainsaw techniques). It also takes 3 years to become qualified to use these old fashioned techniques! A.T. volunteers are amazing. They have created a trail that is world class. But their obsession with the actual trail on the ground has frozen their minds to anything above, or so it seems. They’d have a nervous breakdown or hire the FBI if they woke one day to find a dozen trees cleared suddenly to open up a once beautiful view that Melville, Rockwell, Emerson, Dickinson were inspired by and so artistically shared. And a botanist friend told me these old-fashioned ways of tree cutting are far more dangerous than modern techniques in terms of those cutting down the trees. And unless you’re an expert, many times they damage trees at a greater rate than a skilled lumberjack with a well oiled chainsaw. I met a Yale botanist who has completely changed his mind from 15 years ago and is calling on people to do responsible tree harvesting to use as fire wood in winter. He estimated that New England could fuel itself through a couple months of cold winter and not even put a noticeable dent the tree canopy. He also noted that harvesting trees in small, sensible ways would promote a much more healthy forest. I’m in my 40s now and I can name 20 spots off the top of my head that were the reasons I fell in love with nature and became interested in hiking to “get away from it all”. The views were spectacular and so inspirational. Many times I would hike to get peace of mind or just think. The views were the goals and rewards. Hiking through forest can be meditative and magical. And sometimes I find myself thinking “oh, forget it” when I think of hiking an old spot I used to know well but now know it to be covered up. If that’s all there is…it literally can become torturous. I’ve met several thru-hikers on A.T. who were going stir crazy from monotony. Tree cover has so completely taken over the trail in southwestern NE, and the A.T. trail keepers refuse (or won’t let others help) to clear views, that it feels like an endless tunnel. Older hikers complain that there’s very little variety now. No open fields, big farms, no sweeping views, disappearing 360 views. All those spots now are obstructed by trees. People have gone loony the other way. Even people like that Yale scientist agree that there are literally too many trees now. There’s even the possibility there are more trees now than before Europeans came started first settlements! And most scientists will tell you that they are not healthy forests. I call them “suburban forests”. They are nice, safe, quaint, but they are not at all what they could be and there’s no reason at all not to manage the land in a very responsible way to keep a nice thick old fashioned forrest with lots of small openings to inspire, awe, motivate, and heal all of us. I salute those who have the courage to stand up to out of control tree-huggers (and I’ve literally hugged many a gorgeous tree in my day). Clearing 0.000001% of a forest to inspire all these techno-freaks and others who barely venture out-of-doors is a most valiant and righteous thing to do. John Muir would be proud as these folks at Yosemite as much as I am!

  3. caeman July 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    There is a balance here. People go to see the views, they pay money, it keeps people aware of the scenery, the forests, the mountains, and they give money to keep up the preservation cause. If they can’t see the forest for the trees, they will no longer see what they are wanting to preserve. Thus, a few trees among the millions will be recycled into other uses.

  4. gregpeters July 27, 2011 at 11:47 am

    This poll excluded the best answer. What the park service should do is implement a lot more prescribed fire and WFU fire (“let it burn”) into the managment of the park. A few weeks each year of road and trail closers for a meaningful reintroduction of fire to the ecosystem would restore a natural process AND create new and variable viewsheds and photography opportunitites. The log or don’t log question here is a misleading dichotomy. There is a better solution, and it lies in the fire that was a natural part of this system, with the help of its original inhabitants, for thousands and thousands of years.

  5. lazyreader July 27, 2011 at 11:05 am

    It’s no different from the engineers at Niagara Falls. They allow enough water through the falls to look impressive to the tourists. But they divert a lot of it to provide hydropower to New York City and Buffalo and Albany. Wouldn’t a natural wildfire eliminate some of the brush nearby. Apparently the Park Service doesn’t know anything about forest succession.

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