How overcrowding and extreme weather is transforming America’s iconic national park | The Guardian
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Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel View lookout point in 2020.
HOW OVERCROWDING AND EXTREME WEATHER IS TRANSFORMING AMERICA’S ICONIC NATIONAL PARK
Millions of visitors from around the world descend on Yosemite national park each year, spurred by the promise of awe-inspiring
views, towering trees, and the chance to escape the hum of city life into nature. But by the time the morning sun begins to glint
off of its celebrated granite slabs, the mountain roads snaking into Yosemite valley – the most popular destination – are already
filled with a churning gridlock.
Officials have warned that anyone arriving after 8am will spend hours trying to enter and will find parking lots are already
packed. Now in the midst of the busiest summer months, those who planned their trips far in advance or were lucky enough to snag a
highly coveted campsite or lodge room will still be met with long lines at eateries and along the trails inundated with
foot-traffic. In recent years, Scott Gediman, the park’s spokesperson, likened the experience to that of a shopping mall.
We’ll investigate what this means for the future of one of America’s most beautiful natural spaces, after this week’s most
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Fourth of July weekend in YosemiteTraffic forms at the Big Oak Flat entrance.
It’s long been an issue – but overcrowding at Yosemite came to a head this summer just as officials opted out of a reservation
system pilot that stemmed the surge of tourists and enabled better planning over the last three years. Worsening climate extremes
have only exacerbated the problem as other recreation areas across the Sierra Nevada range remain blocked in with snow or are
inaccessible due to damage left by the extreme storms that battered California the previous winter.
“The park has seen increasing impacts to natural and cultural resources, diminished quality of visitor experiences, increased
visitor and staff safety concerns, and a heavy strain on the park’s facilities and ability to perform daily operations,” officials
posted online, urging the public to provide feedback on a reservation system proposal that would slow the flow of visitors into
the valley. “The National Park Service (NPS) believes that managed access and related strategies are needed in high-demand areas
where other strategies have not been sufficient,” they added.
But Yosemite opted out of their pilot program this year, while the park weighs how best to implement a permanent solution. As the
climate crisis fuels broader impacts across the region, advocates are concerned the problem hasn’t been regarded with enough
“This is actually worse than we were expecting,” said Neal Desai, a senior program director at the National Parks Conservation
Association (NPCA), reflecting on the concerns that he and others raised leading into this summer, as his organization pushed the
park to continue its pilot during the ongoing public feedback process. “It is a complete mess right now,” he said, “and it proves
the point that we need to do something.”
The park describes the three years of required reservations differently, casting them as a response to the Covid pandemic in 2020
and 2021, and a “peak hours” system enabling them to do “extensive construction,” meant to rehabilitate and streamline areas of
the park in 2022. This year has been viewed as a test of those updates, and one many people see as a telling sign. It’s come with
“Yosemite is kind of ground zero for climate change,” said Beth Pratt, who, along with being a local resident and regular among
the wilderness areas of Yosemite, serves as the California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation.
Wildlife across the region bore the brunt of weather whiplash, and are now facing additional challenges from the excess
visitation. “We are over our carrying capacity,” Pratt said, agreeing with Desai. “Especially given how climate is playing into
these parks they are supposed to be the most protected places on the planet.”
The park is encouraging public engagement in the planning process that will go through the next year, and has already received
thousands of comments. On an Instagram post about the pilot, commenters weighed in, detailing how difficult trips have been
“The difference from last year to this year is drastic. It takes hours just to get around the park and people are destroying it,”
one person wrote. “Have you thought about changing the name to Yosemite National Parking Lot?” a commenter sardonically asked.
“Please. For the love of god. Bring back the reservations. The park was never ever designed for this,” another person begged.
Desai said that this summer’s onslaught in visitation may at least help prove that more needs to be done. “This is all pointing
toward some form of permanent solution that includes a reservation system,” Desai said. “The park service knows it is not
sustainable for the visitors, for their employees, and for the park.”
But he’d like to see the program be put in place – even temporarily – while the NPS makes its final decision on how to address the
complicated balancing act between encouraging access to the park and limiting crowding.
“We need a course-correction from the park service and help ensure that when visitors show up they are seeing protected
landscapes, not just people driving off the road because they are stuck in traffic,” Desai said, adding that people are being
misled about what their experience at the park will be. “We have messed this up for the visitor and of course wildlife as well,”
he said, “but we know this is very easy to fix.”
Read more on Yosemite:
‘Like an oven’: heat and tourism create headache for US park rangers
Snow, floods and wildlife in peril: gruelling winter leaves Yosemite scarred
‘It’s a photo orgy’: was Yosemite’s rare firefall too beautiful for its own good?
The good news
Amazon deforestation falls over 60% compared with last July, says Brazilian minister Amazon deforestation falls over 60% compared
with last July, says Brazilian minister TikTok stars clean up: the influencers saving Indonesia’s polluted rivers and beaches
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The bad news
‘Something weird is going on’: search for answers as Antarctic sea ice stays at historic lows ‘Something weird is going on’:
search for answers as Antarctic sea ice stays at historic lows Dismay as Rishi Sunak vows to ‘max out’ UK fossil fuel reserves
Dismay as Rishi Sunak vows to ‘max out’ UK fossil fuel reserves
Read more on The Guardian
The most important number of the climate crisis: 419.4 Atmospheric CO2 in parts per million, 31 July 2023 Source: NOAA Latest:
419.4ppm 694" Safe level: 350ppm above safe level, ---------------------------- passed 1990 23.6" 1960 1990 5013 2023 increase in
past 10 years
THE CHANGE I MADE – DONATING A TREE A MONTH
Down to Earth readers on the eco-friendly changes they made for the planet
Trees for Life Doug Gilbert, Operations Manager, has been rewilded by Trees for Life since they purchased it in 2008.
In search of ways to reduce his footprint, reader David Martin was stuck. “Despite reducing my emissions from direct energy
consumption considerably, embedded and imported carbon was out of my control. I did look into carbon offsetting but it didn’t look
to me a genuine, open or viable option,” he says. “Then you featured in the Guardian, the Trees for Life project [a rewilding
effort in Scotland’s Highlands, pictured above], so I enrolled and buy a tree every month that I could go and visit whenever I
like. It is real and creates a clear benefit to us all. What’s not to like?”
How would David urge readers to make a similar change? “I see the anger some children have with their parents – be able to look
into their eyes in the future when the climate gets far worse. I can say I did my best, you could also do the same.”
Let us know the positive change you’ve made in your life by replying to this newsletter, or emailing us on
CREATURE FEATURE – MONARCH BUTTERFLY
Profiling the Earth’s most at-risk animals
A monarch butterfly in Guatemala.
Location: North and Central America
Swarms of stunning burnt orange, black and white monarch butterflies were once commonplace along the US-Mexican coastline, but in
recent decades numbers have plummeted due to deforestation and climate change. Scientists believe they’re adapting to hotter
weather, and last year 35% more butterflies arrived in Mexico than the previous season.
For more on wildlife at threat, visit the Age of Extinction page here
PICTURE OF THE WEEK
One image that sums up the week in environmental news
In this image taken from video provided by the Burbank Police Department, a bear sits in a Jacuzzi in the city of Burbank, Calif.,
on Friday, 28 July 2023.
Credit: Burbank police via Associated Press
Spotted in Burbank, Los Angeles last Friday amid the heatwave in southern California? A black bear cooling off in a resident’s
pool. Surprisingly, it’s the third such sighting in the Los Angeles area since last June.
For more of the week’s best environmental pictures, catch up on The Week in Wildlife here
A recent scientific paper showed that climate breakdown is drastically increasing the chances of simultaneous crop losses in the
world's poorest nations. The effects of this could be devastating.
We face an epochal, unthinkable prospect: of perhaps the two greatest existential threats – environmental breakdown and food
system failure – converging, as one triggers the other.
So why isn’t this all over the front pages? Why, when governments know we’re facing existential risk, do they fail to act?
Looking back on previous human calamities, all of which will be dwarfed by this, you find yourself repeatedly asking “why didn’t
they … ?” The answer is power: the power of a few to countermand the interests of humanity. It always has been, but the stakes are
now higher than ever.
At the Guardian, we make a point of maintaining focus on the climate crisis. We have a large, global team of writers whose sole
focus is this subject, and have recently appointed an extreme weather reporter and a European environment correspondent as well.
We can only do this thanks to support from readers.
If you can, support journalism which puts the planet first.
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