This fall, after many of the 3.7 million annual tourists have packed their cameras and left Yosemite National Park, the National Parks Service will begin culling young trees to open up views of the iconic granite faces and dramatic waterfalls that ring the valley.
The Scenic Vista Management Plan has been in the works since 2009, and has included extensive environmental impact studies and public hearings. The plan, in spite of public outcry, was officially approved last week and will be implemented in fall.
While the argument against cutting down trees to provide photo ops for tourists is obvious and persuasive, the NPS proponents point out that fires that would naturally clear stands of trees (and unnaturally: Native Americans and early settlers would deliberately set fires to reclaim meadows) are now immediately extinguished in the interest of visitor safety. As a result, views enjoyed by early visitors like John Muir (and even 20th-century ones like Ansel Adams) are now obstructed by Ponderosa pines and cedar trees.
Most of the tree-cutting will be done along the roadways and overlooks in the most heavily touristed parts of the valley—a 7-sq.-mile portion of the vast 1,189-sq.-mile park—and will target select species of trees and those younger than 130 years old.
When the fair-weather visitors return to the park next spring, they’ll find a slightly different Yosemite, one with a haircut and a shave. How about you? Would you prefer to preserve the scenic trees or the scenic views?
Ann Shields is a senior online editor at TravelandLeisure.com.