Why Some Protected Natural Areas Should Remain Off-Limits

AP Photo/The Oregonian, Jamie Francis

Anyone who’s visited Yosemite National Park knows the effect its popularity has had on the park’s ecological quality: roads, cars, air pollution, noise pollution, forest fires, crowds, and trash. To say we can love something to death is a cliché because it’s true. For the San Francisco Chronicle, California native Robert Earle Howells sees this same dynamic at work on the world’s tallest, oldest coastal redwoods, and shows why it’s better to conceal champion trees’ locations than to publicize them.

Record-sized trees become so-called “trophy trees” to eager visitors, but the more people visit trees like Hyperion, the more they damage the trees and forest. Park policies have shifted in response. The fact is, people can’t visit everything in our own public lands, because even though parks serve the public by allowing us to see rare natural areas and experience wilderness, parks also need to ensure that those resources endure.

“The Grove of Titans is a classic example of that,” Litten adds. “We can look at photos of the grove from the 1990s and today, after social media. We see human detritus and trampled vegetation.” People have even cut vegetation to get the photo angles they want, says park ranger Mike Poole.

Another ranger, Brett Silver, put it more bluntly: “It’s supposed to look like virgin forest passed down from prehistory,” he told the Statesman Journal newspaper last year. “But instead, it’s starting to look like the Los Angeles freeway system.”

Nearby Stout Tree has been similarly degraded. “When I started hiking the redwoods 15 years ago, there was no visible track leading [there],” says David Baselt, who runs a trail guide website called Redwood Hikes. “Now, every visitor automatically goes off-trail to take their picture standing next to the tree.” In the process, visitors have almost completely worn away the bark from the tree’s base.

Not all of these issues can be ascribed to the naming of these unique trees, but it’s noteworthy that Redwood National Park has never officially engaged in the practice. “We never name the trees,” Poole says. “By not naming a tree, you stand a chance of saving it.”

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