You are here

Yosemite's Merced River Plan, And Other Legal Contortions


Yosemerced_river_copyjpeg     Can the Merced River survive serenely while construction continues in Yosemite Valley? That's the overriding question the Honorable Anthony Ishii will field later this month when the latest saga in the park's efforts to rebuild the valley after the 1997 flood comes to a head in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
    On one side you have the Friends of Yosemite Valley, which has successfully argued a time or three that Yosemite National Park officials have time and again failed to protect the Merced River corridor from impairment.
    On the other, of course, is the Park Service, which thinks these guys are nuts.
    You can tell that in the government's latest legal filing, the one that asks Judge Ishii to send the friends group packing for having the gall to ask him to ban the park from doing any construction work related to either the 2000 or 2005 Merced River Plan that could "impact or alter the Wild and Scenic Merced River's outstanding remarkable values" until the park adopts a court-approved comprehensive management plan.
    Throughout this filing the government sprinkles phrases such as "adamantly and unequivocally oppose the plaintiffs' remaining request," "there is no basis in law or equity for that type of relief," and "the plaintiffs are badly misinformed."
     Harsh words from the Park Service, which, by the way, hasn't fared too well in court over its efforts to build a legally compliant management plan for the Merced River.

    After all, previously courts at various times have found that the Park Service's Merced River plans have violated the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by failing to establish a "user capacity" for the section of river that flows through the park, violated the National Environmental Policy Act, and violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act.
    And these guys say the Friends of Yosemite Valley are misinformed?
    Sadly, this battle has been mired in the courts for years and is only making lawyers rich. Come October 16th in a Fresno, California, courtroom the friends group and the government will appear before Judge Ishii with their various requests, backed by rafts of paper.
    At stake is construction of the first phase of the new Yosemite Lodge, utilities work, removal of the old El Portal wastewater treatment plant, maintenance of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail, construction of campsites to replace roughly a quarter of the 353 lost in the 1997 flood, and a handful of other projects.
    While the Park Service views these projects as beneficial and environmentally sensitive, the friends group counters that "the NPS is plainly influenced by commercial interests at odds with the public interest, and at odds with the goal of protecting the park."
    No doubt, there's a little truth in each side's message. Unfortunately, it seems the only way a solution can be reached is through litigation.


It is difficult to form an intelligent opinion because there are no links to EXACTLY what the NPS intends to do. Nevertheless, having just returned from a four day stay in the Yosemite Valley, I do have some eyewitness opinions that bear upon the matter. Despite that fact that my stay was M-Th (Sept. 25-28) and excluded any weekend days, all Valley Campgrounds were full for the 25th and 26th with only a few sites available for the other two days. Needless to say it was a crowded valley with plenty of cars parked on roads and the Shuttle buses had plenty of riders (good news since many of the riders were older and I would have expected them to be the last to stop driving their vehicles and use the Shuttles). Considering the crowds, it makes me wonder how wise it is to rebuild another 300+ campsites. Especially when the added vehicle count is taken into the equation.

James et al, You can find details of the park's plans at: Kurt

I agree that the number of campsites should be reduced, not increased, not only for the traffic situation but for bear management. Bears break into cars containing improperly stored food. They roam the campgrounds at night looking for food left out or dropped. These bears become the 'nuisance bears' that then have to be killed to prevent injury to humans. Yosemite has a very good education program on this and plenty of bear boxes for food storage, but bear 'incidents' are daily occurences. Reducing the number of campsites would reduce the risk to bears.

RE: The Bear News The NPS has really gotten serious about education. Before my visit I got a postcard in the mail informing me that I would have to store all my food, ice chest, and any fragrances or toiletries with strong scents in a bear locker. These lockers are great - strong metal with a locking mechanism that a bear could not operate. Furthermore, there were Rangers that walked through the campground every morning verifying compliance. Also, at checkin I had to read and initial a strongly worded advisory about using the bear lockers and complying with the program. Good job NPS!!!

Amazingly enough the Park Service i.e. Yosemite has spent millions of dollars and countless hours studying and doing research on this issue. Their intent seems to be to find a balance between making Yosemite "available" for the public and "preserving" it for future generations. Now Yosemite must spend millions more to combat organizations trying to do the same thing... I don't get it? Didn't the Park Service drastically reduce the human footprint to the tune of 350 campsites and 500 parking spaces?

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide