Devils Postpile National Monument Officials Building Management Plan With An Eye on Climate Change

A draft general management plan for Devils Postpile National Monument is looking not only at the famous geologic outcrop and the 800 acres of the monument, but parts of the surrounding Inyo National Forest. Bottom photo shows the view into the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joajuin River watershed from Minaret Vista. Photos by Kurt Repanshek.

When I first met Deanna Dulen three years ago, the superintendent of Devils Postpile National Monument was setting out to craft a general management plan for the monument, one with an eye on how climate change might impact a scenic crossroads of the High Sierra.

"If I'm going to preserve the biodiversity of Devils Postpile, I have to look at this whole valley," she told me as we gazed out upon the rumpled landscape from Minaret Vista just northeast of the monument.

Devils Postpile is nestled within a geological and biological crossroads. The western half of the monument reveals the granitic underpinnings of the High Sierra, while the eastern half reflects the volcanics of the eastern Sierra. Indeed, the "postpile" was volcanic in creation.

The monument also is relatively biologically rich, located as it is at the convergence of 3-4 bioregions (eastern, western, southern Sierra, and possibly the northern Sierra). Not only is the valley that the monument sits in a migratory corridor for deer, but it also sees a fair number of migratory birds and is a mixing point for eastern and western Sierra vegetation such as Red fir, sagebrush, and Great Basin juniper.

Within Devils Postpile's nearly 800 acres, which have an elevational range of 1,000 feet, there are roughly 400 plant species and 100 bird species. There's also a relatively high percentage (8.5%) of wetlands in the monument.

But what makes the monument -- most of which is part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and which is cut by the John Muir and Pacific Crest trails -- potentially perfect for adapting to or serving as a buffer to climate change is that it is nestled in a climatologically unique area in the Sierra Nevada.

Just south of Yosemite National Park and northeast of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, the monument sits at an elevation of just over 7,500 feet, while the surrounding mountains climb above 11,000 feet. In effect, the monument is a cold sink, one that in winter often is colder than Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows, which stands 1,000+ feet higher.

Superintendent Dulen believes that by protecting the monument as a refugium, it will be able to serve in the years ahead as a vital link for species migration as well as a seed bank.

One of the reasons, in addition to the cold-sink nature of the monument's setting, that Superintendent Dulen and climate scientists with the Forest Service believe she might be able to succeed is that Devils Postpile covers just 798 acres. That relatively small size makes it much more manageable than parks that span hundreds of thousands or millions of acres.

Plus, long-range weather predictions call for only about 10 percent less precipitation to fall on the monument and only slightly warmer temperatures, conditions much more "normal" that other parts of the region are predicted to experience.

Superintendent Dulen recently released a draft of her GMP for public review. It is open for public comment through September. You can find a copy of it at this site.

The developing document and its vision will be interesting to watch be put into play, as the scope is not restricted to the monument but also touches U.S. Forest Service lands in the Inyo National Forest, the Reds Meadow Valley, and the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin.

“Both agencies are working together on this plan and using this opportunity to develop additional recommendations for the valley and watershed so our shared efforts can provide high quality visitor experiences and resource protection as we look forward to the next 100 years,” reads an introduction to the draft alternatives being considered.

Part of the GMP explains how officials want to develop a zoning approach to the monument. These zones touch on front-country areas, sensitive resource areas, natural landscapes (such as wilderness), “portal” areas that transition between “more primitive and pristine wilderness areas and more developed areas, and “key attractions” in the monument, such as the Devils Postpile itself and Rainbow Falls.

This approach addresses the entire watershed, both inside the national monument and on surrounding Forest Service lands. However, while the zoning would become effective for Devils Postpile once the GMP is approved, that on Forest Service lands would take effect only if the Forest Service adopted the GMP or incorporates the recommendations some other way into its planning.

There are four preliminary alternatives currently being considered:

* Alternative A, the “no action” alternative. This would continue the current management approach.

* Alternative B. Tagged as the “watershed emphasis” alternative, this would place “greater emphasis on managing and promoting visitor understanding of the broader upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Watershed, and the role of the monument within that watershed. Visitor services are focused on Minaret Vista as the key location for learning about the watershed and its resources.”

* Alternative C. Identified as “Connecting People to Wild Nature,” this alternative “emphasizes the monument and the corridor from Minaret Vista down through Reds Meadow Valley as a gateway to a greater wilderness and a place for visitors to experience and connect with nature and history in a wild setting.”

* Alternative D. This approach would “Focus on Special Destinations,” such as Minaret Vista, Devils Postpile, Rainfall Falls, and Reds Meadow. “Active management is focused on resources with national significance, with more indirect or passive management applied elsewhere.”

As part of the GMP’s preparation, monument officials also are working with Forest Service officials to determine whether the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River is suitable for “wild and scenic” designation. An earlier study, prepared in 1991, found that the river segments that fall within the GMP planning area are eligible for such designation.