Living Among 66 Million Dead Trees

Yosemite View
Yosemite National Park

An adventure and my first campout was somewhere between 1957 and1960 in Yosemite National Park. It was everything a campout ought to be. We hiked up to Vernal Falls, walked along the Merced River, laughed by the campfire, and savored every one of those magnificent trees—conifers of all varieties. I brought home samples of the different kinds of needles and pine cones. Trees always fascinated me.

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls runs like it did before the drought

Those were glory days and America was great — unless you suffered segregation, or deemed a commie because you were an artist or a thinker, and so on. This was also a time when America’s economy forecasted its change from agriculture and manufacturing to white collar specialty work. But keeping to long-held business practices, America’s captains of industry were free to expel waste into the rivers and the sea, and spew toxins into the air. It was post war heydays and we knew that God was on our side.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake, reflecting memories from the past.

But because we savored the beauty of the national parks and the bucolic American countryside, it seemed right to assure that everyone could enjoy these open spaces (we instinctively knew it was good for the body and soul), and that our hometown environment should be as clean and lovely as in these parks. It was clear that we were losing something beautiful and that changes must be legislated to make America’s waterways and air beautiful again. And we did.

Historic covered bridge over south fork of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park

I just returned to Yosemite National Park after decades of absence. It is magnificent, if you ignore the hordes of people crawling the valley like ants, and the over 66 million dead conifers in the Sierra Nevada, with the grey and brown bulk seen along the roads leading into Yosemite National Park through Mariposa County. I lost my breath seeing the death of these trees. The minute I witnessed the foothills and the mountains beyond, swaths of brown dead trees that towered hundreds of feet above the soils covered the landscape like a heartless slaughter against nature.


The small towns lining these two-lanes roads that wrap around these mountainous counties are in a panic because the concerns include:

  • There will be supercharged fires
  • An entire ecosystem will change
  • Soil erosion will impact future runoff
  • The loss of trees absorbing excess carbon dioxide
  • The cost to clear these trees
  • The amount of human-power and time it will take to clear the millions of dead trees — estimated at 5 to 7 years.

One official commented to a local paper, “You couldn’t have a worse standing hazard.”

No matter where I walked today, chainsaws buzzed like irritated bees out of a 1950s B movie, gargantuan-sized equipment lumbered against the paved road, and the crashing of the mighty pines shook the ground. There were mountainous stacks of logs, or a sea of logs left where they fell on the forest floor. Smoke from the 8-5 burning of excess wood debris filled the air.

The cause: extreme drought that has weakened the trees and made them unable to battle the ravages of the bark beetle.

I remember when I first blogged about this seemingly endless California drought and how it personally impacted my lifestyle, including a local ordinance that disallowed more than 50 gallons of water a day used per person. “Ah, you Californians are nothing but whiners. California has a history of drought. It’s natural,” commented some non-Californians.

Duh! Most Californians know that drought is not new to this part of the country. But it always ended in short and due time.

After 5 years of stingy drips from rare clouds, we had a very wet 2016/2017 winter.  Nonetheless, this was an unprecedented 5-year drought. Experts and state planners say this is the new norm. The climate has changed and there is no immediate going back to depending on healthy rains and snow fall in the winter that gives California the most amazing ability to feed so much of the world from its fertile soils and what once-seemed like more water than we could ever use in a lifetime.

Well folks, we used it in my lifetime.

Surveys say that most people don’t deny that the climate has changed. However, some won’t admit that it is our hunger for energy, too many people, and an unnatural craving for too much stuff, that has brought about this war against nature that has forced nature to strike back.

As I write, I am among Yosemite’s seemingly healthy budding oaks, cedar trees, Ponderosa pines and a few towering sequoias. The nearby fork of the Merced River runs wide, deep, cold, and loud. It fills this canyon with a melody of baritones and tenors banging out a riff that brings calm to the mind. The holy incense of living trees and the river’s choir is a prayer of beauty and praise during the holy sacrament of turning Earth.

But the unholy are fast at work in their war against nature as they dismantle the rules that disallowed so much of what has riled the wrath of nature — as if nature is an inanimate creature, or a Disneyland-like setting that is mankind made like the manipulated turfs and robotic ponds of golf courses and suburban malls.

Perhaps no person elected to write national law should even be nominated until he or she spends one month alone in say, Yosemite, or one of the magnificent places remaining to stay alive as one of America’s great national parks.   Only then will they understand exactly what it is that makes America great.


Mirror Lake returns to life after record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains that feed California most of its precious water.


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