Yosemite’s Famed Flock Causes Closures

Backpacking & Trekking, California, Destinations, Health & Safety, North America, Planning, Tours & Attractions, Wildlife & Animals — By on July 23, 2012 at 6:00 am
By Nneka Opene
LG Contributor

During the year, roads and trails of Yosemite National Park are often closed due to natural hazards such as fire, rockslides and extreme weather. This time, however, the primary reason for closures in the park is due to endangered peregrine falcons nesting along popular cliffs frequented by climbers.

This past winter, the Yosemite National Park Superintendent designated falcon nesting areas closed to visitor use until falcon chicks fledge and disperse from the area by mid-summer.

At the time of publishing, primary areas closed are the Rostrum, Hetch Hetchy, Middle Cathedral Rock, Yosemite Point and El Capitan Southwest Face. Other closures that have recently been lifted are Rhombus Wall, Half Dome South Face, Glacier Point east side, Kolana Rock, El Capitan Southeast Face, the B.O.L.T. Wall and portions of the Arch Rock Area. Regulations are also in place limiting noisy aircraft traffic in the area to only rescue operations and other emergency traffic.

Park officials have taken various measures to protect other endangered wildlife before. In the past, they’ve used electronic monitoring to ensure bears stay away from populated areas and have also sanctioned buffers around nests of endangered great gray owls. However, the falcons have received the most protection for the past few years, and now, their population seems to be thriving.

Alternate Routes
Since May to September is the only time of year when the entire park is accessible, some speculate that the closures could make already crowded areas even more congested. In an effort to manage the larger crowds, permits are now required to hike the popular Half Dome peak and advanced reservations are required for most campsites.

For those who fear that this bird business could interfere with their summer plans, they should worry not, as the closures are only temporary and are constantly changing. Alternate routes are available while many of the closed areas typically re-open only weeks after they’re closed. It is advisable to call ahead or check the parks’ website for updates before visiting during peak season.

For The Birds
Falcons once flourished throughout the United States from coast to coast, but by the 1960’s, scientists discovered that DDT was interfering with their ability to fledge offspring, ultimately diminishing their numbers. By 1968 the peregrine population had been completely eradicated east of the Mississippi river, and eventually found itself on the California endangered species list. Although removed from the list in 2009, continued conservation efforts are needed to maintain this status and regenerate a healthy population. Park officials say that Yosemite represents the highest peregrine falcon nesting density in the Sierra Nevada, and has played a key role in its recovery.

Clocked at speeds up to 220 mph, this predatory bird has been an important symbol of speed and power, not only in America, but in other cultures as well. Horace, an Egyptian god, was a peregrine falcon. Falconry was the subject of some of the oldest Egyptian wall paintings, was a sport practiced in China before 2000 BC, and is the national animal of the United Arab Emirates. William Shakespeare was a falconry fan that introduced falconry terms (such as “Hag”), into popular speech.

Falcons help to keep the ecosystem in balance by preying on rodents and other pests that are a nuisance to farmers and city dwellers alike. These regal birds have become so cherished that there is even a beloved bed and breakfast motel called the Yosemite Peregrine B&B, also known as the Falcon’s Nest.

A National Wonder
As one of the oldest and most bio-diverse national parks, Yosemite has a long history as a treasure trove for wildlife conservationists. With nearly 4 million visitors last year, Yosemite has become the nation’s third most visited national park. During the busy summer months, thousands of tourists from around the world visit Yosemite, making their way along the seemingly endless miles of scenic nature trails famed for their majestic waterfalls, cozy campsites and precarious cliffs.
Park Safety
Each year there are serious accidents and even deaths, often due to carelessness on the part of tourists. To avoid potential hazards, park visitors should plan ahead, keep abreast of local conditions, and adhere to safety regulations posted on the parks website, as well as throughout the park. Visitors should come prepared with the recommended supplies, avoid feeding the wildlife, keep food in bear proof containers, and adhere to alternate routes and trail closure updates. Since most closures are put in place due to rock slides and other sudden dangers brought on by mother nature, park visitors should always be prepared to adapt their plans at any time to impending conditions. Yosemite has such a vast array of landscapes allowing such a wide range of activities, that visitors from all walks of life will undoubtedly enjoy it’s magnificence anytime of the year regardless of any closures.