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Saving Yosemite's Giant Sequoias by Tearing out the Pavement

Apr 28, 2014 05:23 PM EDT
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In an attempt to save Yosemite National Park's towering giant sequoias, workers in June will remove a road and parking lot from the forest, The New York Times reported.

The $36 million project will kill two birds with one stone. While dismantling a gift shop, removing a tourist tram and adding elevated walkways in the grove, the move will also improve visitors' experiences and preserve an ancient treasure, according to Tulsa World.

Landscape architects paid by the Yosemite Conservancy came up with the new design.

Yosemite National Park, located 180 miles east of the San Francisco Bay Area in the Sierra Nevada, consists of 1,200 square miles of terrain, including Mariposa Grove, one of the few natural forests of giant sequoia in the world.

Sequoiadendron giganteum, which can grow more than 250 feet, suffered in the 1800s when man chopped their trunks for shingles, posts, pencils and souvenirs, The New York Times wrote. Tunneling through them for tourist attractions didn't help either. Yosemite added a 115-car parking lot and a road, not realizing the damage it was doing to these 2,000-year-old trees.

"There is the possibility of slow death of some of the trees," Don Neubacher, Yosemite superintendent, told The Times, calling the grove's condition "an embarrassment."

And in a world where nature is changing, experts hope the renovation will make the trees more resilient.

"We are concerned about these trees if the climate is going to be changing dramatically," added Sue Beatty, a Yosemite restoration ecologist and deputy project manager, The Times reported.

Not to mention their presence is a benefit to the environment. According to a past study published in the journal Nature, for most species the biggest trees increase their growth rates and store more carbon as they age.

By rerouting walkways, tourists will no longer trample winding 200-foot shallow roots, and by removing the road, the trees will retain water - each one requires 1,000 gallons of water a day, Nathan Stephenson, research ecologist with the United States Geological Survey, conveyed to The Times.

The National Park Service, Federal Highway Administration and the Yosemite Conservancy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization, will all contribute to the project, Tulsa World concluded.

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