Yosemite: Those Who Kill

The name Yosemite, bestowed on California’s much loved valley by a local soldier-miner in 1851, in the mistaken belief it meant grizzly bear, actually was a word referring to the native residents of the valley in the language of their unhappy neighbors, the Miwok. It meant “those who kill.” It may come to have unwanted resonance to ourselves as we wander warmly into the future.

Kelly Zito, a constant source of environmental news for the S.F. Chronicle picks up on a report from the USGS and the University of Washington that the density of large-diameter trees (over 3′ across) has dropped substantially since a similar survey in the 1930s.

They found that for many of Yosemite’s most prevalent tree species – including ponderosa pine, white fir, Jeffrey pine, red fir and lodgepole pine – large-diameter specimens are dying off more quickly than they can be replaced. Specifically, the density of large-diameter trees fell from 45 trees per hectare to 34 trees per hectare over that time period (one hectare equals about 2.5 acres).

…Twentieth-century logging, often blamed for changing the composition of other forests, was not a factor in Yosemite, which has been a protected wilderness since 1890.

Instead, Lutz and van Wagtendonk point to another man-made phenomenon: Warmer temperatures, dwindling Sierra Nevada snowpack and longer, drier summers are slowing large tree growth while making them more susceptible to insects and pathogens

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There are many thing issues to occupy our minds and our hands. This warming business is going to affect them all: food, health, borders, migration, war. It’s hard to keep it near the top, but we better try — every time we see a tree.