Biomass Removal and Scenic Vista Clearing Projects (2022–2026)


Biomass Removal Project

What is the Biomass Removal Project?

The biomass project is focused on removing mostly dead and down logs and branches to create fuel breaks along road corridors. This creates safe places for fire fighters to conduct prescribed fire or hold wildfire. Current fuel loading along road corridors are 50 to 500 tons per acre and an average of 125 tons/acre (roughly equivalent to a 757 commercial airplane), with 10-15 tons being the “normal range”. Additional thinning in some areas will occur by removal of white fir, incense-cedar, and some ponderosa pines. All trees removed will be fewer than 20 inches in diameter. These smaller diameter trees are “ladder fuels” that push fire into the canopy and can push fire into the tops of trees and promote “crown fires.” Without intervention, the intense fuel loading and dense ladder fuels makes it impossible for fire fighters to restore fire as a natural process.

Where will biomass removal take place?

  • Biomass removal will happen in various large segments throughout Yosemite Valley.

  • There is also work underway in and around the Merced Grove with related pile burning taking place in early 2022.

  • Roadside work is planned for areas outside of Yosemite Valley along the Big Oak Flat (from Merced Grove to El Portal Road) and Wawona Road.

  • Additional work will occur in Yosemite West and in Wawona. Work in Yosemite West is part of the same grant funding, but work will be overseen by Mariposa County Resource Conservation District.

Scenic Vista Management Projects

The scenic vista program documents, protects, and reestablishes Yosemite’s important viewpoints and vistas, consistent with the natural processes and human influences that created them. The Finding of No Significant Impact for the Scenic Vista Management Plan (SVMP) environmental assessment was completed and signed in July of 2011 for sites outside of the Wild and Scenic River corridors. The Tuolumne River Wild and Scenic River Plan, Appendix I, describes actions for vista management consistent with preserving and enhancing the values of the river. The Merced River Wild and Scenic River Plan, Appendix H, describes actions for vista management within the Merced River corridor. Sites were ranked according to a visual resource assessment scale (VRA). Vistas were given a score from 1 to 18 based on the criteria of vividness, uniqueness, access, and intactness.

No more than 93 vista sites throughout the park will be initially managed, and an additional 21 sites monitored and maintained. A total of 32 sites have been initially managed, so far.

What is the Scenic Vista work plan for 2022 and 2023?

This year’s work plans include to work on several sites within the Merced River corridor in Yosemite Valley, along Big Oak Flat Road, and Wawona Road. We do not anticipate completing all proposed vistas this year. More vistas are proposed than can be completed to provide flexibility around concerns such as traffic, nesting season, resource availability, and fire danger. Several of the vistas will require removing many trees to achieve full prescription. We are taking a staged approach and will clear portions of the larger vistas but will spread the work over several years to gradually restore them. The workplan is spread over multiple years because work primarily occurs from late summer to early spring to avoid damage to sensitive vegetation and soils, and to avoid disruption of sensitive nesting and denning seasons in the spring and early summer.

What specific areas are proposed for scenic vista clearing?

The following areas are proposed for scenic vista clearing in Yosemite Valley:

  • Stoneman Meadow area (the closed portion of Lower Pines Campground/Sugar Pine Bridge-Ahwahnee Bridge area; this is part of a river restoration project)

  • Stoneman Meadow Vista (view of Royal Arches)

  • Ahwahnee Meadow/Church Bowl (view of Half Dome)

  • Hutchings View (near Lower Fall shuttle stop) (view of Yosemite Falls)

  • View of Yosemite Falls from east end of Yosemite Valley Lodge along Northside Drive

  • Chapel (view of Yosemite Falls)

  • Leidig Meadow (west of Yosemite Valley Lodge along Northside Drive; view of Half Dome)

  • Ferry Bend (main view of Horsetail Fall from Southside Drive) - this will make Horsetail Fall visible from the road/paved areas to reduce need for people to walk to the river where the bank collapse occurred

  • El Capitan picnic area (view of Horsetail Fall) - this will make it more visible from the picnic area, so people don't have to wander into the woods

  • Vernal Fall footbridge (view of Vernal Fall) - this will only modestly improve the view because most of the trees blocking the view are in wilderness (and won’t be removed)

  • Illilouette Fall view (JMT below Vernal Fall footbridge)

The following areas are proposed for scenic vista clearing outside of Yosemite Valley

  • Foresta overlook

  • Elephant Rock overlook

  • Crane Flat Meadows

  • Wawona Road-Merced River Canyon overlooks

Will there be impacts to wildlife?

  • Work is scheduled to minimize potential impacts on bird, pacific fisher, and bat species. In general, August through March would be the best estimated time for vista clearing to take place, subject to site-specific conditions.

  • Features with obvious high value to wildlife, such as snags (particularly those with evidence of wildlife use), very large diameter trees, oak trees, large diameter logs, and decaying wood will be preserved in place where possible.

  • Work in pacific fisher habitat will only occur outside of denning season and will follow guidance from park biologists.

  • Work in red-legged frog habitat will not occur after periods of heavy rain (half inch over 24 hours) to prevent impacting frogs moving overland.

Will there be impacts to visitors?

Ultimately, the goal is to limit traffic disruptions and/or impacts to visitors. If there are temporary road closures or traffic delays, they will be short (~15 minutes) and scheduled during periods of low visitation when possible. With the new traffic circulation in place, crews will work out the most efficient way to run the scenic vista clearing operations to avoid shutting down both lanes.

All work that generates noise levels above 76 decibels near residential or visitor use areas will be performed between 8 am and 5 pm.

Who chooses which trees to remove?

Qualified National Park Service staff select which trees to remove and contractors working on these projects have no financial incentive to remove more big trees than planned. Contractors working on these projects are paid the same amount for their work regardless of what they take. Any proceeds, which are minimal, help defray project costs (e.g., fuel) or otherwise will go to the U.S. government general fund.

What happens with the wood being removed during these projects?

Most of the wood being removed during these projects is not of merchantable quality. In 2020/2021, 9,000 tons of biomass was removed and converted to electricity; enough to power around 850 homes for a year. The small amount that is suitable will be taken to mills and used as lumber. Most of it will be going to a biogen plant in Chinese Camp for conversion to electricity and some will be used as shavings for animal pens. The smallest and/or most decayed material will go into burn piles in place.

Conifer Removal in Tuolumne Meadows

Why are trees being removed from Tuolumne Meadows?

During summer 2023, some small conifers will be removed from Tuolumne Meadows.

Lodgepole pine removal will restore the size and function of the meadow ecosystem as well as restore scenic vistas.

Heavy spring runoff historically flooded Tuolumne Meadows to an extent that prevented the establishment of lodgepole seedlings along meadow margins. Floodwaters saturate the pore space in soil, denying sufficient oxygen to the roots of the pines, and increasing the likelihood of root rot and seedling mortality. Construction of Tioga Road has altered the drainage patterns by diverting, channelizing, and restricting portions of the meadow from inundation.

Tuolumne Meadows is an important ecological and recreational component of Yosemite National Park. Meadows perform a variety of functions vital to ecosystem integrity such as:

  • purification of lakes and streams by filtering sediments from runoff
  • nutrient capture
  • foraging habitat for deer, marmots and other small mammals
  • support high levels of plant and animal diversity

The majority of the trees will have a trunk width of fewer than four inches, and no trees with trunks larger than twelve inches will be removed.

Last updated: August 28, 2023

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