How to Preserve Yosemite: Get the People Out

Planning a visit to Yosemite, along with the four million other people who spend time in the park each year? Catch it while you can: the Parks Service is contemplating some radical changes to how the park is operated, and that includes limiting the way people access and use Yosemite in the interests of protecting it. Discussions about the park’s future have raised some complicated emotions for parties on all sides, and as is often the case with conservation measures, some people think the proposal goes too far, while others argue it doesn’t go far enough.

What is clear is that Yosemite is heavily congested, especially during the summer months, when tourism rates are high. Yosemite is a beautiful and critical part of our national heritage, and has become an important ecological symbol as well — many people try to make a visit to Yosemite at least once in their lives, especially if they live in the American West, and iconic parts of the park such as Half Dome are very recognizable as pop culture symbols, even for people who haven’t been there. Visitors from outside the U.S. also flock to Yosemite, given its fame and importance.

All those visitors take a heavy toll on the park. As people walk, ride bicycles and horses, swim, and engage in other activities in the park, they threaten the ecosystem and disrupt the natural environment. Since Yosemite is in part a nature preserve, foresters and rangers are concerned that prioritizing human use could have serious consequences for the park’s long-term future, not just as a place to conserve for its intrinsic value, but also a place that future generations will want to visit, for the same reasons that we do today.

Some of the changes include closing down commercial enterprises in the park itself as well as reorganizing traffic. Inevitably, this will likely cut down on the number of visitors to the park, which is part of the goal; fewer people means a lower environmental impact. Reducing the activities permitted would also cut down on that impact, protecting resources that are extremely fragile as a result of too much traffic and hard use. This could also prove helpful for the plants and animals of Yosemite, which struggle in an environment where they are forced to fight with humans for basic resources.

The National Parks Service has a complex role in the United States. As administrator of parks like Yosemite, it’s responsible for conserving and protecting some of the nation’s most beautiful and precious natural resources, not just in an economic and environmental sense, but also a cultural one. America’s national parks are crown jewels of a rich and complex cultural heritage, featuring beautiful and rare geological formations, animals and plants that cannot be seen anywhere else — and often live in fragile and sensitive environments that are highly vulnerable to human interference.

Yet, even as the National Parks Service needs to protect these resources, it also needs to open them up to human visitors and uses, because this is part of their mission as well — and there’s no point in preserving a resource that no one gets to appreciate. Much like museum managers, the National Parks Service has to preserve and protect while showing off the things entrusted to its care, and it can be a delicate balancing act.

The plans for Yosemite illustrate the see-saw between protecting parks and making sure that people get to use them, and often ultimately making decisions that don’t make anyone happy. Some environmental advocates say the park’s managers should be more aggressive with their plans for Yosemite and the Merced River, while conservative activists believe that the measures are too extreme, and constitute pandering to the liberal left.

In the end, the final decision may result in litigation and other challenges, and will be, at best, a compromise, but it will also hopefully result in some permanent changes to make Yosemite more sustainable, as one thing is certain: the park cannot continue to be used in the way that it is currently used if it’s to be enjoyed by future visitors.

Photo credit: Paul Sullivan


Kay Martin
Kay M4 years ago

Thank you S.O. Smith, for a great article, and thanks to the over 110 care 2 members, that commented on this suject. I am enjoying reading all of them, After I am finished, I think some of these replies deserve a green star for excellence. Some of the suggestions I totally agree with. STOP DRILLING, do not sell off parts or even allow corporations to use this area commercially, Making these National Parks into National Preserves is a great idea put forth by Mary B, Karen F, and Marianne. We need to let these great ladies start a petition to address this problem to the proper people in Washington....period. Keep up the good work everyone. and let us all pray that these forest fires do not destroy all of Yosemite.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

Hear, hear... out with them!

Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago


Mary B.
Mary B4 years ago

Thank you Karen F, and Marianne for your suggestion to rename all parks Nature Preserves which puts a whole new energy around it in peoples minds. I heard a good indepth interview on MPR recently about this issue and many of the things the posters are suggesting are already in effect.Getting the commercial places out would indeed help alot, then restrict the number of visiters who may enter at one time, and while the commercial places are being torn down, close the park entirely so the eco-systems can self repair. And to those who object to their taxes going to someplace they can't see, if they're too inmature to understand why this is necessary, then they're too dim to go and appreciate it anyway. Only small, electric powered golf cart type vehicles should be allowed inside the preserve.The whole priority needs to shift from humans visiting to preservation of land and wild life habitat. And absolutely NO DRILLING, MINING OR LOGGING .Make a 3-D movie that can be viewed to show the beauty and tell the story of these splendend places, and ask for donations to help preserve them. Most incredable places in the world most of us will never visit, but we can still appreciate the beauty because of the wonderful filming technology available now.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

there needs to be strict limits on all commercial use of national parks and the way people visit them. there also needs to be restriction on how people move about and where they go.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

If Yellowstone wants to preserve our forest they would not want to sell rights to drill and mine it. They would also protect the bison and wolf population in it. At this time I have seen Yellowstone wanting to make money by leasing out parts for the companies to use. The 'foot' prints of them leasing Yellowstone would destroy more then the tourists have done.

Marilyn M.
Marilyn M4 years ago

Thank you.

Jeaneen Andretta
Past Member 4 years ago

Do they want to preserve the parks or get people out of the way so they can abuse it will drilling and mining.

Stuart W.
Stuart Wisong4 years ago

smoking in movies had tapered off during the 80's and 9'0's but here we are seeing the display of smoking in films to show how "cool" it is. Forget about the likelihood of throat and lung caner. In the early thirties and forties you could see almost every actor smoking a cigarette. This was written into the script even to earn large sums of money from the tobacco industry. To produce a film is very costly and if the tobacco companies are offering to a million or two to help fund the film, signing a contract that states the inclusion of actors smoking is lucrative for the film. Most often the actors did not get any of the money and there were many who just held the cigarette since to smoke it would show they had no experience with cigarettes. There was a film made a few years ago that exposed the truth about the connection between the tobacco companies and the production of movies. It is pathetic to this generation of young people see their role models in films smoking since our government has limited severly the advertising of cigarettes in magazines and other advertisement venues such as huge billboards and posters. There is a gigantic, sophisticated and continual advertisement of products that are harmful to people. For the young and impressionable, it is lethal to their health. You can guess the products that spend the most money and we are talking millions, sometimes billions of dollars. Let's list some of them. How about Coke, and the high content of addictive substanc

Shirley E.
Shirley E4 years ago

It would be ironic if humans got a taste of the pain inflicted on the animal kingdom and found themselves forced out of such a key and valued part of their habitat as Yosemite. A taste of our own medicine and prhaps a chance for species other than humans to be prioritised in the pecking order.