For over 40 years, I have watched the Yosemite area suffer large wildfires, losing most of its historic old growth. In 1971, I went to the Cherry Lake area, on a junior high field trip, to see forestry in action, on the old Granite Fire. In 1990, I helped lay out salvage cutting units in the A-Rock Fire. There is no doubt that California Indians meticulously managed their domains, including Yosemite Valley. Their ideal landscapes were composed of large, fire-resistant pines, canopies of California Black Oaks and a thick carpet of flammable bear clover. Their skills and knowledge resulted in the majestic pine forests that used to populate the area of the Groveland Ranger District, of the Stanislaus National Forest. This roughly-mapped view shows how large modern fires have decimated the area. Notice that the Granite Fire has been completely re-burned. Whether they are lightning strikes or human-caused wildfires, they are not like the pre-settlement fires ignited by the Indian wise men.
Historically, this area had awesome old growth forests that survived the extremes in terrain and climate. Below is a view of a part of the Rim Fire that I worked on in 2000. I personally flagged most of these units, enduring thick manzanita and whitethorn. In browsing around, I could see that the project was just finished, when Google collected their images. Landing piles have been burned and the large plantation thinnings were completed. You can see the brushy areas that were left “to recover on their own”, as concessions to wildlife. Fire crews appear to have initiated burnout operations along the road on the right side of the picture. You can also see a patch of private ground. There also appears to be some unthinned plantation on Forest Service land there, as well. There should be some great opportunities to compare treatments.
It is clear that we need to learn how to grow “all-aged” forests, which are also as fire resistant as they can be. The Tuolumne River canyon will continue to do as it always has. It will burn, despite what humans do. However, I believe we can act to contain fires to the canyon, for the most part.