Drawing Connections: Yosemite National Park

Drawing Connections: Yosemite National Park


Every night, you rest your head on a pillow
and sleep. As you lie dormant, your body takes the opportunity
to repair damaged muscles, recharge spent fuel, process waste, and sort all the thoughts
and memories that entered your brain that day. Sleep is so important that—without enough—your
physical and mental health can begin to deteriorate over time, leaving you tired and cranky, or—worse
yet—sick. Sleep is equally important in places like
Yosemite National Park. Everything from oaks to bears require the
prolonged period of dormancy ushered in every year by winter. Wild animals begin to migrate, hibernate, and hunker down as both leaves and temperatures begin to drop. Even park visitors begin to retreat for a
spell, as snowshoes become more useful than hiking boots. Yosemite seemingly falls asleep. Like our bodies, though, much is happening
in the park during this long winter’s nap. The thick deposits of ice and snow that coat
Yosemite store water that will be necessary during the long, dry months ahead. Cold temperatures force the seasonal retreat
of insect pests—like the pine bark beetle— that might otherwise threaten the health of the
forest. And trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas
recover slowly from the stress of the busy summer visitor season. Increasingly, though, Yosemite is becoming
sleep-deprived. The park is now experiencing shorter, warmer
winters that bring less snow. And as the park’s winter slumber diminishes,
so do the benefits we’ve grown accustomed to. Less snow in winter leaves the park parched
in summer, with consequences for everything from waterfalls, to wildlife, to wildfire. Longer periods of warmth allow pine bark beetles
to reproduce and spread more readily, resulting in the loss of trees and forest. And the earlier arrival of spring lengthens
the visitor season, leaving trails and campgrounds less time to recover. Like Yosemite, national parks across the American
West are feeling similar effects from less winter sleep. And though the long-term implications might
keep us lying in bed awake at night, the story of Yosemite provides hope. We’ve learned a great deal since its protection
as one of the first national parks in the world. And over the years we’ve learned to lessen
our own impact, and have even helped return imperiled species like the peregrine falcon, big horned
sheep, yellow-legged frog, and others to Yosemite. Our past provides numerous examples of success
in protecting the places we love. Can we rise to the challenge again? How can we ensure that Yosemite enjoys the
winter slumber it needs to rest and recover in the years ahead? Can you picture it?

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