In the News: Loss of Cougars in Yosemite National Park, "Uranium Rush" at Grand Canyon National Park

Is there a dearth of cougars in Yosemite National Park that is impacting the ecosystem? NPS photo.

Critics of the National Park Service's mandate to conserve natural resources often say the national parks were not intended to be kept inside bell jars. And that's certainly not happening. Proof can be seen in how the loss of cougars is thought to be adversely affecting Yosemite National Park and the recent rush to find uranium near Grand Canyon National Park.

The latest news from Yosemite -- in addition to that regarding the stalled Merced River Plan and the dangerous state of the Wawona Tunnel -- demonstrates just how fragile the national park's natural resources are. According to a cougar study conducted by Oregon State University researchers, the loss of cougars from Yosemite has created a cascade of impacts that has knocked the park's ecology off-balance.


A new study of Yosemite National Park concludes that the displacement of cougars in the 1920s and a resulting increase in deer populations are what set the stage for the ongoing demise of black oak trees – a key element of the park’s plant and wildlife ecology.

... What was once considered a radical and unproven theory about the ecological importance of top predators now appears to be a trend seen across the canyons and mountains of the American West.

Of course, not everyone is sold on the researchers' analysis and conclusions. Check out the San Francisco Chronicle's take on this development at this site.

If you have a good memory you'll recall that the Oregon State researchers found much the same situation as they found at Yosemite at Zion National Park two years ago.

And, of course, those who closely followed the environmental and conservation writings of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson will no doubt recall the tales of the Kaibab mule deer collapse that resulted early in the 20th Century as the result of extermination of the resident mountain lion population. In short, without the lions to keep the mule deer population in check, the numbers swelled so high that the landscape could no longer support such high numbers.

While wildlife is the issue at Yosemite, radioactive ore is in the news at the Grand Canyon. Here's a look at how the Los Angeles Times is handling the story:

Thanks to renewed interest in nuclear power, the United States is on the verge of a uranium mining boom, and nowhere is the hurry to stake claims more pronounced than in the districts flanking the Grand Canyon's storied sandstone cliffs.

On public lands within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park, there are now more than 1,100 uranium claims, compared with just 10 in January 2003, according to data from the Department of the Interior.

Back in March the Traveler touched on this issue, pointing out a lawsuit filed by conservation groups to halt one company's exploration for the ore.

Comments

Kurt, thanks for bringing this critical issue to light. As a strong supporter of Aldo Leopold's conservation concepts on land ethics, I severely chastise the Bush & Cheney administration for their rape and pillage polices towards more exploitation of energy resources at the borders of our national parks. Whether it be the Arctic Wilderness or the Grand Canyon, we should not allow this corrupt administration to move one more inch towards this foolish and selfish goal to rip away at our natural resources out of reckless wanton. It's more then foolishness based on pure stupidity but blatant disregard for the concept of conservation of our resources. If this country had established decent energy policy years ago maybe we wouldn't be talking about this absurd issue of poking and pocket marking holes around our national parks for more energy resources. It has already begin to show that fur, fin and feather starting to collapse within it's natural habitats and boundaries to survival. What's more important, saving and conserving our natural resources for "Chance F's generation," or suck it for all it's worth for a short term energy package when energy conservation (and green energy policies) is truly the answer. Aldo Leopold had it right!!

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: in wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

Aldo Leopold “Thinking Like a Mountain”