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Grab the axe so we People can see the View again!

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Grab the axe so we People can see the View again!

Postby SSSdave » Tue Nov 07, 2006 7:21 pm

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Last week I was lugging around my view camera in Yosemite Valley a few days and at one point stopped at the famous Valley View paved pullout. For those unfamilliar with the name, that is the paved viewpoint on the north loop drive at the west end of the valley about a quarter mile before the highway junction and the Pohono Bridge. The view eastward is of El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Falls, and Leaning Tower all in one awesome view with the Merced River in the foreground. The problem which is getting worse there is bushy white alders that after the 1997 flood and subsequent construction at the viewpoint have grown up in front of the pavement along the river from tiny shoots to what are now tall and widening bushes that increasingly block the views eastward. When the river is high in the spring, the water raises above the level of the trunks so that it won't be long before one will only be looking through branches. Thus the sensible thing to do is to saw the trees at the base and not let them grow back....EVER.

Of course trees blocking views in the famous valley have been increasingly for decades. A century ago and more the valley was a much more open savana of black oaks and few pines. However over the decades the pines migrating down from the canyon walls have been allowed to grow as they do and increasingly block views all over. Given all the human roads and containment, no longer do periodic major floods sweep them away every decade or two. Old black and white photos from Valley View show sparse large black oaks in open meadows with wonderful clear views of Bridalveil Fall. Today one can barely see the falls because of the dense tall pines behind Bridalveil Meadows. At another famous viewpoint, Discovery View, that some refer to as Tunnel View, a single young pine growing out of the viewpoint's unnatural embankment below the rock wall have increasingly been blocking that view. Likewise they ought to take an axe to that.

So apparently those in charge that might have the authority to do something have been in some kind of let nature do as it will in front of major viewpoints regardless of how such effects our human views. They apparently are afraid some rigid thinking types are going to complain if they interfere with the natural course of things. Well folk those viewpoints are highly unnatural and serve a purpose. They allow lots of we humans to see this grand valley. I'm sure there are a heck of a lot more of we who would rather see the views than the few rigid types that might complain. So please mr ranger, get your axe and do what George Washington would have done.

The pic at top is a snapshot of Valley View. Sorry for using such a cruddy pic but one can see the alders behind the two cars. A closeup of one of those alders is below. ...David

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Postby hikerduane » Tue Nov 07, 2006 7:38 pm

Can you see the environmentalists allowing that? If they don't like logging to protect communities from fires you think they would allow trees to be cut just to improve the view in a National Park to boot? On the other hand, the views are what bring people in. Thanks Dave.

I don't think you first photo is bad, take the cars out and it is nice. Just wait until the alders get bigger. They do tend to grow fast, on my property, the last big flood wiped out a bunch after a big pine came down from across the creek and broke all the alders off and the flood wiped some more out. It is all grown up again now, remarkable how nature recovers.
Piece of cake.
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Vista Clearing

Postby gdurkee » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:58 pm

Ha. Yes. An ancient problem. I don't have any specific knowledge of Yosemite's management decisions here. For a very long time (into the early 70s) Yosemite managers actively cleared the areas in front of the classic views. Not sure if it's even visible anymore, but my favorite was a square view cut into overhanging oaks when looking out the visitor center window towards Half Dome. This was called "Vista Clearing."

By the late 70s, cutting trees for a view was considered "unnatural" and was (mostly, I think) stopped. I'm not sure what the current status is or if it's even a formal decision -- it could just be that no one has money or time to cut some of these trees.

Interestingly, a formal decision was made in Tuolumne Meadows to cut small lodgepole pines encroaching on the meadow. I assume the decision was made specifically to preserve the open character of Tuolumne. The reasons for the pines taking over the meadow are not completely understood (e.g. human caused or a natural -- there's some recent evidence that it's related to recent climate warming).

So, I think Yosemite might consider cutting trees in a very few limited places. Arguably, much of the growth in the Valley is a result of less influence of fire (though also, arguably, the Native Americans burned more often than "natural" fires would have burned...). It's nice to keep things mostly "natural" but I am increasingly thinking that, in a very few cases, managers can tweak things to keep the public happy and enjoying their park.

That said, I think there is, yet again, a misunderstanding of what National Parks are. To say broadly 'let's just hack away 'cause we don't like xxx' or to dump on "the environmentalists" because "they" (I mean, who are "the environmentalists"??) may not approve misses the point. You want to see a sculpted landscape, go to Disneyland or a KOA. Parks are not just about static views. Stuff happens: rocks fall, rivers cut, trees grow. There is this great ebb and flow as "the round earth rolls" (Muir). One of the major ideas of a park is to let all this happen and, if the budget is there, provide the occasional ranger or publication to draw people's attention to it and explain it.

Further ecological side note: about 1/4 mile ENE of the current Valley View is Black Spring which used to be the Valley View where people stopped coming in by stage or horse. It had the same clear view of the Valley. It is now totally overgrown by pine.

http://www.carletonwatkins.org/views/hi ... 3054wj.htm

George
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Another Ecological Side Note

Postby gdurkee » Wed Nov 08, 2006 3:10 pm

And I just remembered this, speaking of chopping and hacking. Valley View (the photo that Dave shows) is right below the terminal moraine from one of the last glaciations. In the late 1800s, the "people" decided that moraine dammed up the water too much, flooding the meadows behind it. So they blasted through it so the river & meadows would drain more quickly. That is quite likely one of the reasons trees have been encroaching on what was formerly meadow (the other is fire). Trees were kept out not because of the mechanical effects of flood, but the higher water table made it too wet for most species to grow.

Which is all to say that's one of the reasons "the environmentalists" tend to be cautious before hacking or blowing things up. We really don't know the effects.

g.
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Re: Vista Clearing

Postby The Other Tom » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:03 pm

gdurkee wrote:Further ecological side note: about 1/4 mile ENE of the current Valley View is Black Spring which used to be the Valley View where people stopped coming in by stage or horse. It had the same clear view of the Valley. It is now totally overgrown by pine.

http://www.carletonwatkins.org/views/hi ... 3054wj.htm

George


I have mixed emotions about this one. My first vist to the valley was in 1971. I was wowed by the views from the valley. I came back in '72, and again around 10 years later. I was still wowed by the views. My next visit was in 2002, about 20 years since my last one. We stopped at the tunnel view before going to the valley and I was wowed again, this time with the number of pine trees in the valley. I didn't remember all the trees in the valley from my past visits. There were still some good views from the valley, not as good as before, but still good. I began to read that the "powers that be" had decided to let the valley go natural. I then realized that my grandchildren would not be able to enjoy Yosemite as I had as a young man. I keep debating if this is a good or bad thing. As Geroge says, stuff happens, things change...that's the "nature" of nature.
If the valley is allowed to grow up in tress, then this will greatly reduce the number of tourists in the valley...good or bad thing ?
Man, this is a tough one. There is no easy answer.
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Postby SSSdave » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:09 pm

Thanks for your information and comments gdurkee. I called those who might be against such clearing as "rigid thinkers" because such an issue really is about those who have problems seeing the world in anything but black and white regardless of their passion whether that be social issues or environmentalism. Most environmentalists generally tend to be better educated more intelligent people that wouldn't have any problem noting the trivialness of an issue like this and reacting in pragmatic ways.

Interesting that you brought up the Tuolumne Meadows lodgepole pine clearing which I was in fact going to bring up. Seeing that this August was a bit of a catylyst for creating the thread since it was a sign of some reasonable minds in control. That area of pine clearings is across from the gas station/post office/store with part of the campground directly behind it. Thus many people walk directly through the area on the way into the meadow. It became rather obvious within a decade if all those young head high lodgepole were allowed to grow, that this area would end up just another dense forest thicket blockng the modest view towards Soda Springs. This was certainly not a case of losing some exceptional view but rather one of keeping open a pleasant meadow area that in mid summer is full of small wildflowers and in a dense area of visitor use. Of course lodgepole will continue to encroach on wet meadows anywhere at these elevations as climate varies from wet to drier as it is a normal natural process. However near our human centers of use and activity, I applaud the wise pragmatic approach.

Black Spring is certainly one of the historic spots on the map that except for the name on the topographic map is virtually ignored by visitors. And yes all the pines nearby are quite tall now. For years I've parked thereabouts and made my way up through the dense canyon live oak and incense cedar full of cobwebs and poison oak below to the base of the talus slopes. From there with some careful hunting one may gain the entrance to the treacherous talus of The Rockfalls where views of Bridalveil are unblocked. ...David
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Postby Sierragator » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:10 pm

Wasn't the original name for the area "Ahwanee"?. Loose translation: place of tall grass.

Of course when you look at the evolution of glacial lake basins, they gradually silt up to change from lakes to meadows, and after than trees encroach until the area is forested. Yosemite Valley was once a glacial lake basin.
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Trees & Meadows

Postby gdurkee » Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:44 pm

How extremely cool. A discussion on forest dynamics in Yosemite. And finding someone else who knows where Black Spring is! My first year as a ranger (1971) I led walks through the thicket to Black Spring to show the changes since Watkins was there in the 1861. I was also a student (undergrad) of Harold Biswell (aka Harold the Torch) who was a major proponent of reintroducing fire to the Sierra after decades of fire suppression.

I agree with Tom about having mixed emotions over the changes (though your memories are not quite accurate -- forest growth was well underway in the early 1900s and density probably hadn't changed significantly between 1970 & 2002).

This is from Jan W. van Wagtendonk's REFINED BURNING PRESCRIPTIONS FOR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (he was one of Biswell's grad students (??) and is now a USGS research scientist in Yosemite):


That fire played an important role in Yosemite's forest can be surmised from historical accounts. John Muir (1894) not only described the open nature of the original forest in his book The Mountains of California but also wrote about periodic fires which occurred in the forest. Reynolds (1959) and Vankat (1970) have both attempted to determine the exact nature of the pristine Sierra Nevada forests. There is general agreement that the forests were quite open compared to present conditions and that fire was important in maintaining the openness.


http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/yose/

The park service also goes back and forth on the issue. Since the 70s though, they have been reintroducing fire into the Valley (and elsewhere in the Sierra). It's an extremely slow process but seems to be resulting in more open forest and a halt in encroachment of trees on meadows.

There's another great reference (but very hard to find): The influence of man on the vegetation of Yosemite Valley by Gibbens & Heady. If I remember right, it's got some excellent past & present photos of Yosemite Valley and the increase in forest.

As mentioned above, climate change is also playing a role, at least at alpine elevations (though we might have another unpleasant hissing contest on just how "natural" that change is... . I've also heard second hand that the Tuolumne encroachment might be because the meadow was made more susceptible by cattle grazing there in the late 1800s.)

So that's all to say that if changes are being caused by disruptions due to human activity, then NPS is definitely sympathetic to fixing that. If not, I think they still are in some cases.

Also, just found this on bank erosion, which is perhaps why NPS may not be too keen on cutting vegetation on the stream bank:

http://www.springerlink.com/content/862n077574r12627/

OH: yes. Awahanee. I just looked it up! I, too, had always thought it meant "deep grassy valley." Not so, apparently:

The Miwok called Yosemite Ahwahnee or “mouth,” because the valley walls resembled a gaping bear’s mouth.


http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/origi ... emite.html

Amazing.

George
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Glaciel Lakes

Postby gdurkee » Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:50 pm

Sorry I'm getting carried away here. All of this has always been a hugely interesting topic to me:

Of course when you look at the evolution of glacial lake basins, they gradually silt up to change from lakes to meadows, and after than trees encroach until the area is forested. Yosemite Valley was once a glacial lake basin.


That may be somewhat true in lower elevation lakes (below 5,000 feet and still seems to be rare there). It's not true in sub-alpine or alpine lakes. Most all of those (above, say, 8,000 feet) have been stable since the Pleistocene. Yosemite Valley, though (and probably Hetch Hetchy) did used to be a lake, though I'm not clear on the processes that led to its filling up. I'm wondering if it was the gradual erosion of the terminal moraine -- the dam forming the lake.

g.
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Postby SSSdave » Wed Nov 08, 2006 11:11 pm

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Watkins photos

Postby gdurkee » Thu Nov 09, 2006 12:22 pm

Good photos by Watkins. Especially interesting is #6 -- that seems to show very young pine coming into a meadow of oaks. Also, the oaks in the background have branches very low to the ground -- an indication there'd been no fire in the area for some years.

Both might be indications that either A) Native Americans had been prevented from burning the Valley with the arrival of settlers B) they didn't burn it as often as thought.

Interesting.

Incidentally, I'm the proud owner of an original Watkins -- very small one of Yosemite Falls.

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Postby dave54 » Thu Nov 09, 2006 8:49 pm

The downside about "letting things go natural" is high intensity stand replacing fires are also natural in the sierra westside mc forests -- they occurred less frequently than low- to moderate intensity fires, but high intensity fires did periodically occur.

A sustained multi-year drought coincident with a mountain pine beetle outbreak, followed by a late season dry lightning event, would cause a stand replacing fire in the Valley. This is a highly likely scenario that has already happened in recent years elsewhere in the Sierra and around the West.

The question is are we as a society ready to accept that catastrophic 'natural' event?

Do we intervene to try to prevent that type of natural process?

What level and type of intervention is acceptable human modification?

These are not questions that can be answered by scientists. Indeed, scientists are singularly UNQUALIFIED to answer these questions. This is the realm of managers using the public policy process to assist in the decisionmaking (that's assist in the decisionmaking -- not making natural resource decisions by mob rule).

There are very real tradeoffs regardless of how one feels on these issues. Unfortunately, the public is not willing to accept the risks and tradeoffs no matter which course of action is chosen.
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