If a tree falls in the Yosemite Valley, is the view better for it? Yosemite National Park officials think so, and they're hoping to improve nearly 100 viewsheds in the park by cutting down hundreds of trees.
The goal, park planners say, is to restore some of the viewsheds, primarily in the Yosemite Valley, that have been obscured, if not lost, by trees growing unfettered. While Native Americans who lived in the valley used fire to clear forests and keep meadows open, since the landscape was set aside in 1864 by President Lincoln, "(L)and management practices that followed have altered the park’s scenery over the past 150 years."
There are few places on the Valley floor from which upper and lower Yosemite Falls are visible. The “Postage Stamp” vista of El Capitan, made famous in the 1934 one-cent postage stamp engraving from an 1868 Carleton Watkins photograph, is now obscured by conifers. Many vistas are obscured due to conifer encroachment in meadows. Two-thirds of the meadowland in Yosemite Valley has also been lost to conifer encroachment since 1865.
Without fire, conifers have been encroaching on meadows in the Yosemite Valley, the park's environmental assessment on a Scenic Vista Managment Plan notes, and visitors are impacted by having fewer viewpoints to enjoy. Additionally, those viewpoints that remain are shrinking, and "frequently exhibit crowding, compromising visitor safety."
Under the park's preferred approach to improving viewsheds in the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove areas, "...staff would clear and maintain about 93 obscured or partially obscured sites, at a rate of about 30 initial clearings per year."
If there are no hitches, the sound of chainsaws biting into trees, and trees crashing to the ground, could be heard in the Yosemite Valley beginning in the fall of 2012.