Picking a Lot of Apples This Day Helps Keep the Bears Away in Yosemite National Park

Picking apples at Yosemite.

NPS photo.

An orchard loaded with ripe apples is more than many bears can resist, so volunteers will help harvest the crop a little early to reduce temptation in Yosemite National Park. If you're in the park on Monday, August 17, you're welcome to help pick some apples...and keep the bears away.

It's the "12th Annual Apple Picking Time in Yosemite Valley." According to an announcement about the event:

All visitors, employees, and residents are invited to pick apples to help keep bears wild! Volunteers will assist the park staff in collecting apples from the Curry Village Apple Orchard and Lamon’s Apple Orchard.

The historic, ripe apples attract bears to developed areas and alter their natural diets. By removing the apples, bears will return to their natural food sources found throughout the park and not become exposed to humans and their food.

The apples are being picked before they're ripe, so they're not yet a big attraction to the bears. If they're so inclined, those who help in the project are welcome to keep any green apple they pick.

You can download a copy of the announcement, which includes details for those who want to participate.

So, how did apple orchards end up in a place like Yosemite Valley? Johnny Appleseed apparently didn't make it to Yosemite, but he would have been proud of early settlers of the area.

C. Frank Brockman was a long-time NPS naturalist at Mount Rainier and Yosemite. He retired in 1946, and is the author of Broadleaved Trees of Yosemite National Park, which appeared in Yosemite Nature Notes in January 1947. It offers the following background on the orchards:

Visitors to Yosemite National Park will note a number of interesting trees which were planted in the early days before this area became a national park and which, although they are not native to this area, have been allowed to remain because of their association with the early history of the region. In this category fall the American elm, the black locust, and sugar maple, found in a number of places on the Valley floor, as well as several kinds of fruit trees.

According to Mr. Borckman, two orchards were planted in 1859 by James C. Lamon, the first settler in Yosemite Valley; a third was planted by James Mason Hutchings, who had returned to the Valley in 1864 as a hotel owner. If you'd like to read more on the subject, you'll find a copy of the publication at the Yosemite Online Library.

Some may ask why the park doesn't take the direct approach to the problem of bears and apples, and simply remove the trees.

The orchards pre-date the park, and some view the trees as part of the area's historic landscape. There's no question the sites have a quaint appeal; a note card on sale at the Ansel Adams Store Online features a winter scene by the famous photographer of a snow-crusted apple orchard with Half Dome in the background.

The possibility of removing one or more of the orchards has been raised in at least one previous long-range plan for Yosemite Valley; the attempt to finalize a plan for the Valley area that satisfies the legion of groups with an interest in the park—and the various judges who have weighed in on the process—is still a work in progress. What decision will ultimately be made about the orchards in the park is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, a volunteer apple-pickin' day seems to be a fine way to help keep those bears out of trouble.

Comments

i thought and always hear that the idea was to keep everything in its natural state. the apple trees are not natural and though they might be nice, they are causing a problem with an animal that is natural. for instance, the wolves in yellowstone, the lake trout in glacier park. is it one or the other?

Are these the original fruit trees? Apple trees 150 years old? Is that right? Did I miss something?

GlenW -

A good question, and I don't yet have a definitive answer. I'll see what I can find out; perhaps one of our readers already knows.

My best guess, based on the life span of apple trees in general, is that the current trees were not among those planted when the orchards were first established. In that context, the orchards in Yosemite Valley are historic, but not the individual trees.

Although there are exceptions reported around the world, it would be unusual for apple trees well over 100 years old to still be bearing fruit

The orchard is definitely historic. I don't think they'd be 150 years old. Trees might have been replanted as the older ones died out. Remember there used to be a lot of stuff that doesn't sit well with ideas of what a national park should be. The Ahwahnee Hotel used to have a 9 hole par 3 golf course. It used to be legal to feed the bears. The NPS used to have an open garbage dump and conducted regular spectator-attended bear feedings.

I'd think that they would have been replanted some time in the last 100 years.

Returning to my car in the orchard parking lot on the edge of Curry Village, after wandering in wonderment lost among the tall sequoias, ancient stone walls and waterfalls of Yosemite valley, to call these apple trees historic is meaningless to me.
Anyway...

"FORTY THOUSAND SUNSETS : THE APPLE ORCHARDS OF
YOSEMITE VALLEY — Forty-thousand days . That's about how long
they've been here . Not long, considering the Sequoias or the
Bristlecone Pines . But for apple trees, no mean achievement,
especially in the western United States . Certainly in Europe there
must be apple trees much older . I wonder how old an apple tree
can become."

Continue reading (.pdf file)

I guess "historic" is a matter of interpretation.

I consider the Ahwahnee Hotel, or the LeConte Memorial Building to be historic. They may pale in an age comparison to a giant sequoia or granite monoliths, but that doesn't mean that they're still not historic.

I'd sooner they just raze the fruit trees and replant them with more suitable trees like oaks. There are a lot of things that were allowed in the past. The Firefall is a thing of the past which went the way of the daily bear feedings. Perhaps set up an interpretive plaque with photos and an explanation of why they were removed.

It is possible for apple trees to be that old and still produce fruit. Several of the original trees in Shenandoah and on the BLue Ridge Parkway still produce fruit. In a lot of parks they will replant the trees using the seeds to keep the genetics going. Often these are heritage apples and are varieties that can't be found commercially. So I guess they could be considered historic.

I know some parks have trouble because that is a fine line. There are some Tamrisk trees in Death Valley that were planted by the CCC...are they historic now and should be protected or are they evil invasives? It's a very fine line sometimes!

Ranger Holly
http://web.me.com/hollyberry