Natural Resources at Sequoia & Kings Canyon - Details

A view towards the peaks of the Kings Canyon high country.
View toward the Kings Canyon from Highway 180 on neighboring National Forest. The glacially carved Kings Canyon on the South Fork of the Kings River, with its 2,500-5,000 foot-high granite walls, is one of North America's deepest canyons.

NPS Photo by Jim Warner.

Welcome to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks natural resources website. Here you will find descriptions of the natural resources of the two parks, and introductions to the different components of the Science and Natural Resources Management (SNRM) program. Links are provided to subsequent individual pages on the various aspects of the parks' SNRM program: air resources, geology, vegetation, water, wildlife, and inventory & monitoring. These pages provide information about park resources and their management, along with species lists, reports and links to related web sites.

 
From a high point, looking across the opening of the Kern Canyon.
The glacially-gouged Kern Canyon in Sequoia National Park contrasts sharply with its surrounding jumbled terrain. Although the Kern River is 155 miles long, 80 percent of its water originates as melting snow within its first 15 miles.

© Photo by Dan Duriscoe.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks occupy a portion of the western slope of the southern Sierra Nevada, the 400-mile-long mountain range along the eastern edge of California. The parks have a tremendous elevation range, from about 1,360 feet (412 m) at park headquarters in Ash Mountain to 14,491 feet (4,417 m) at the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. The parks' diverse topography includes rich assemblages of terrestrial, aquatic and subterranean ecosystems.

The composition and structure of the Sierra Nevada provide some significant geological formations in the Parks. Geological resources include river-cut canyons more than a mile deep and extensive and spectacular examples of glacial erosion, including hundreds of alpine lakes and several glacially eroded canyons. Marble rocks in the parks contain more than 200 caves. The caves contain Pleistocene era fossils, rare minerals and unique animals.

Although some parts of the parks are so dry in the summer months that they favor drought-adapted plants and animals, some 3200 lakes and ponds dot the landscape and approximately 2600 miles of rivers and perennial streams flow through park lands. Three major rivers originate in these parks --Kings, Kaweah, and Kern. These rivers provide valuable irrigation water to the rich agricultural lands in Fresno, Kern, and Tulare counties.

 
Mountain yellow-legged frog in water.
Mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosa) are still widely distributed in the southern
Sierra Nevada, but most populations are very small. The species is currently a candidate for federal listing as "Threatened." The introduction of fish in high Sierra lakes and ponds seems to be the most direct threat to the survival of these once-abundant frogs.

© Photo by David Graber.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain a wealth of biological resources. The parks were established more than a century ago to protect the giant sequoias. The park lands include almost 40 named giant sequoia groves, which contain about one-third of all the naturally occurring sequoias. Extensive bands of mixed-conifer forests surround the giant sequoia groves. The forested areas of these parks have recreational and scientific values as the largest remaining old growth forest in the southern Sierra Nevada. Below the forests in Sequoia National Park are chaparral, grasslands, and blue oak savanna grading into oak woodland, which are among the few foothill lands in the southern Sierra Nevada designated for long-term preservation.

The remainder of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, mostly above 9,000 feet (2,743 m) in elevation, is best described as "High Sierra". This is a spectacular environment of rugged, ice-sculptured alpine ridges, wet meadows, and sparsely wooded lake-jeweled basins.

 

The preservation of native animals within the two parks results naturally from the habitat protection that the parks provide. The animals found within the parks do not differ significantly from those living on surrounding lands, yet these unprotected lands are mostly undergoing profound change. As a result, the wildlife protection function of the parks is becoming increasingly important.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are at the heart of the largest contiguous wilderness area in California, and 85 percent of park land is designated as wilderness. The parks are also a designated unit of the International Biosphere Preserve Program.

Despite the protected status of resources within park boundaries, many threats to park resources exist. These include air pollutants, invasion by alien species, loss of natural fire regimes, habitat fragmentation, and rapid human-caused climatic change.

You may learn more about the Science and Natural Resources Management program by looking at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks' Resources Management Plan and by visiting other web pages on individual topics.

Last updated: March 1, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271

Phone:

(559) 565-3341

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