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Study: Roughly One-Third Of Yosemite National Park Lost For Resource Extraction


Yosemite National Park landscape today (in yellow)/Conservation International

During a 32-year-period early in the 20th century, roughly one-third of Yosemite National Park in California was removed from the park so the land could be opened to natural resource extraction, according to an analysis published in Ecology and Society.

The researchers note that when the national park was established in 1890, Yosemite covered an area of 1,500 square miles. During the next several decades, though, Yosemite’s boundaries shifted seven times: five small parcels were added and two large tracts of land were removed. "Overall, Yosemite’s size was reduced by 29.8%. (505.5 square miles). Today, the forests that were removed from the park are more highly fragmented by roads than forests which remain protected."

The authors -- a team of scientists from Conservation International, George Mason University and Clark University -- believe, however, that these losses are reversible, as certain parcels that were removed were later protected as wilderness areas that could be reunited with Yosemite and offer more contiguous habitat.

“Over a century ago, Yosemite was set aside to be protected in perpetuity. Since then, protection has been maintained for some of it but not for all,” said Rachel Golden Kroner, a PhD candidate at George Mason University and lead author of the study. “The 100th anniversary of the National Park Service provides an opportunity to reflect on ‘America’s Best Idea.’ Recognizing the impermanence of national parks and other protected areas reminds us that we should not take these national treasures for granted.”

The authors and their colleagues have documented what they refer to as "protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement," or PADDD, across the globe. Mike Mascia, study co-author and senior director of social science at CI’s Moore Center for Science, first coined the term “PADDD” and has been working with colleagues around the world to document this largely overlooked phenomenon since 2009. Their work is captured on, a crowd-sourced website that Mascia and colleagues launched to both document and disseminate information about PADDD.

Yosemite National Park's landscape in 1890/Conservation International

The researchers note that while United States national parks are widely perceived as sacrosanct, "legal changes to Yosemite’s boundaries demonstrate that the USA is not immune to PADDD." For instance, they point to Saguaro and Big Bend national parks, where there have been calls by some politicians to remove legal and regulatory obstacles to allow for infrastructure construction for border security purposes.

And in Brazil, they note, Iguaçu National Park and Dunas de Natal State Park were recently proposed to be PADDDed to allow highway construction, Emílio Einsfeld Filho Private Natural Heritage Reserve was recently proposed to be downsized to allow dam construction, and Amapá State Forest was recently proposed to be degazetted to allow industrial agriculture.

“As we look ahead to the future of national parks in the USA and around the world, the history of Yosemite demonstrates the critical importance of protection and the lasting legacy of when protection is lost,” said Mascia. “Environmental policies must account for the fact that we not only can create national parks, but we can also take them away—and when we do take away protection, there can be lasting consequences.”

Mascia said that if appropriate policies are not in place, PADDD could happen under the radar, resulting in the loss of natural heritage and the services protected areas provide for climate and other ecosystem services. Though it has been widely documented, the rate of PADDD remains unclear, as do the impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services.


Time to put those lands back in Yosemite, which would provide better protection for park ecosystems. For example, a good portion of the Rim Fire lands that have been butchered by "salvage" logging by the U.S. Forest Service would have been protected in the original Yosemite. We also need to add other surrounding National Forest lands to protect them from resource extraction.

This is also a lesson in why we need to build a much stronger base of grassroots support for our national parks. Strong public pressure can prevent this kind of PADDD and support new and expanded parks.

I am working to protect the area between Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon and I have been diligently building support for about three years. We have a proposal to unite the parks by creating a national monument out of the federal land between the two. You can learn more at: or contact me at [email protected]

The park is big enough.  We need to keep doing resource extraxtion for the health of the forest and the surrounding communities.  The park service has created the illusion of ovecrowding by eliminating thousands of parking spaces and hundreds of camp sites.  They hijacked the "Wild and Scenic River" designation to remove amenities in the park.  The Merced WSR designation was to protect the Merced river from development OUTSIDE of the park.  Wild and scenic river designation clearly states that "Existing infrastucture, at the time of designation shall remain".  They will be continuing to remove things to satisfy the utopian selfish greedy green movement.



A voice advocating for resource extraction ["for the health of the forest"\ turning around in 1984 Newspeak to call environmental conservationists'greedy' is pushing irony to the N'th degree.

Kevin, and I am certainly not an expert, but the Merced Wild and Scenic River designation, signed into law by President Reagan in 1984, included the river corridor in Yosemite. The NPS did drag its feet a little, but an outstanding Superintendent was assigned to Yosemite and one of his highest priorities was to complete a Merced River plan per the requirements of WSRA, that was already 3 years past time alloted. I think you are correct in that existing structure within the corridor was allowed, and that was included in the completed draft. However, my guess is politics entered the planning decision (as it always does at decision time), as the plan, as drafted, did not allow new development in the river corridor, so it was shelved, as many plans are.  In 1997, a major flood in the river corridor happened, and in planning for the flood recovery effort, it was discovered by the plaintiffs that the park was not in compliance with WSRA. . That was the basis for the roughly 10 years of litigation that followed by several environmental groups. When the litigation was filed, the planing effort was now 10 years in limbo past the deadline mandated by the act. The 9th circuit found in favor of the plaintiffs, mediation occurred and the park now has an approved WSRA for the Merced River.

Restoration of some of the original boundary of Yosemite Park is a good idea ecologically. These areas were removed from the original park as the Army Superintendents at the time, who were administering the area, simply did not want to deal with the local, timber, grazing, mining activities occurring  mainly on the western and southern sides of the park. They had there hands full with the high country, and the management then in charge by the State Of California over Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. In any case, in hind sight, it was a poor decision, as the land removed was prime winter habitat for migrating animals, birds etc. The good news is that the USFS, which administers these areas, has them in fairly protected status, but my own view is that that should be returned to Yosemite.

Wonder if The Trust for Public Lands specified in their new 400 acre transfer to Yosemite NP that these special meadow habitats were to be protected and perpetuated; that is,  not to be trashed by building large parking lots adjacent  to concession operated lodges ?  Some Ego Driven future superintendent may find a loophole to build another monument to his/her reign ?  

We can only imagine what a new Trump dominated Federal Administration will do with our Public Lands; especially a Trump Administration who has little understanding of climate change, EPA protections for clean air and water and no respect for values of natural  habitats preferring to lobby for real estate tax advantages for golf course and casino developers.

The principal reductions to Yosemite occurred in 1905, and another in 1906 when Yosemite Valley was "returned" to the federal government. There is nothing new in this "study," other than to forget the original "studies." No one perceives the original parks as "sacrosanct" if they have bothered to read those studies. So this is graduate study today--inventing another acronym--PADDD? I still think John Muir said it best. "Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded."

I believe that Devil's Postpile National Monument (a real gem, by the way, at the "end of the road" past the town of Mammoth Lakes, California and Mammoth Mountain Resort), protects a parcel of this land that was once within Yosemite, was withdrawn for the stated purpose above, and then was protected again by Presidential Proclamation amidst outcry over a plan to dynamite the postpile formations to plug the river for mining and agricultural purposes. So at least one small piece is back in the custody of the NPS.

Edit: It seems my memory is mostly correct:

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