How should national parks deal with vegetation that has grown up and, in some cases, altered landscapes or blocked views?
At Yosemite National Park, officials are debating what to do with vegetation that obscures nearly 200 scenic vistas in the Yosemite Valley and elsewhere in the park so much so that they no longer appear as they did back in 1864 when the landscape was set aside for its scenic qualities.
In 2009, park staff inventoried 181 scenic vistas in Yosemite (outside of Wilderness) and found that encroaching vegetation completely obscured about one-third of the vistas, and partially obscured over half the vistas. Vegetation encroaches on these vistas for a number of reasons, including the exclusion of American Indian traditional burning, the suppression of lightning-ignited fire, and human-initiated changes to hydrologic flows.
And in the East, many Civil War parks contain stands of forest where, in the 1860s, there were open meadows or farmlands, or troops had cut down trees and brush to open up sight lines. Many of these parks today work to remove these trees, but back in 2008 a professor from Boston College wrote to oppose the felling of trees to recreate 1860s conditions.
The logic appears glaringly cracked: if the goal is to make the battlefield look as it appeared when 165,000 soldiers met in the Gettysburg epic, then why uproot the "non-historic" trees while leaving in place the non-historic roads? And what about the 1,300 monuments?
Indeed, if trees and brush obscure viewpoints in the Yosemite Valley, what about lodges, restaurants, cafeterias, and other aspects of 20th century development?
What say you, travelers? Where should the line be drawn when protecting national park viewsheds?