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Yosemite has a big plan for 2019. It includes traffic fixes — and mountain lion poop

Native American elders return to Yosemite’s last native village

Native American elders and Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Reynolds talk in June 2018 about the native community rebuilding Yosemite's last native village site, Wahhoga, destroyed by 1969.
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Native American elders and Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Reynolds talk in June 2018 about the native community rebuilding Yosemite's last native village site, Wahhoga, destroyed by 1969.

Dogs trained to smell mountain lion poop. Studying fungus on cliffs to protect bats. Reintroducing endangered bighorn sheep and frogs. Keeping old apple orchards alive in Yosemite Valley.

These are just a few of dozens of projects happening behind the scenes in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Conservancy, the park’s main philanthropic partner, donated $15.3 million this year to make these projects and others possible. The projects aim to restore wildlife and habitat, improve visitor experiences, and bolster education.

Here’s more information about some of these ongoing projects, with links where you can donate to support the efforts:

Saving native frogs and toads: Yosemite is working to protect three at-risk amphibian species: The Yosemite toad, Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and California red-legged frog. Around 200 adult red-legged frogs were released in several Yosemite Valley sites earlier this month. Frogs fitted with radio transmitters will be released for the first time in Yosemite in June.

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A threatened California red-legged frog suspends its legs into the water after being released in Cook’s Meadow Friday, May 3, 2019 in Yosemite Valley. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Protect endangered bighorn sheep: Endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are being reintroduced, too. More sheep will be added to a herd that was released in Yosemite in 2015 following a century-long absence in the park. GPS collars and field surveys will track the sheep throughout the year.

Celebrate climbing history: The park has agreed to its first permanent rock climbing exhibit, an effort led by the Yosemite Climbing Association. It will be located in the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. Fundraising is underway by Yosemite Conservancy and the American Alpine Club to make it happen.

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Climbers Tommy Caldwell, left, and Kevin Jorgeson, right, speak during a press conference in Yosemite Valley near the base of El Capitan Thursday morning, Jan. 15, 2015 in Yosemite National Park. Eric Paul Zamora ezamora@fresnobee.com

Protect big wall bats: Yosemite scientists are studying whether Yosemite’s bats are at risk of contracting white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats. The fungus prompts bats to emerge early from hibernation and can cause them to starve. There is concern climbers could spread the fungus into caves on Yosemite’s big walls, where bats roost during the winter.

“Scientists will use temperature and humidity data to identify potential fungal hotspots on rock walls,” the conservancy said. “That crucial knowledge will inform strategies for preventing WNS from taking hold in the park, such as educating climbers about how to avoid spreading the deadly fungus.”

Build the Wahhoga Roundhouse: The Wahhoga Village, the last Native American settlement in Yosemite Valley, was removed by the Park Service by 1969. It is being rebuilt just west of Camp 4 using traditional materials and techniques. Its roundhouse will be used by Yosemite’s native community for cultural and spiritual ceremonies.

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Les James, chairman of the Wahhoga Committee, beside a roundhouse under construction at the Wahhoga village site in Yosemite Valley, June 2018. CARMEN GEORGE cgeorge@fresnobee.com

Build stewardship through bilingual outreach: Spanish-speaking rangers will be stationed along popular Merced River beaches in Yosemite Valley this year to share “basic conservation ethics and safety tips” to help visitors who can’t speak English.

Keep Yosemite moving, explore travel patterns: Millions of people visit Yosemite every year, which means traffic can be bumper-to-bumper in Yosemite Valley during the busy summer season. The park is studying traffic patterns to create strategies aimed at reducing congestion in the park and improving the visitor experience.

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Allison Kerper photographs the south wall of the valley as tourists begin to stream into Yosemite Valley Tuesday morning, Aug. 14, 2018 in Yosemite National Park. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Survey mountain lion populations: Researchers will use trained dogs to find mountain lion scat and collect genetic samples “without disrupting the lions or their habitat.” Results will inform efforts to protect the species in Yosemite and throughout California.

Preserve historic orchards: A professional orchardist will work with park staff this year to rescue five old orchards in Yosemite Valley, Wawona and El Portal that were first planted in the 1800s by Yosemite homesteaders. They are being preserved for their “historical and horticultural value.”

Protect peregrine falcons: These raptors that nest on towering Yosemite Valley cliffs neared extinction just a few decades ago. They have rebounded in Yosemite thanks to nationwide recovery efforts and bans on DDT pesticides. The park surveys peregrine breeding sites and uses that data to implement temporary closures of climbing routes near nesting areas to protect the birds.

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Gus the peregrine falcon helps spread the word about the mission at The World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise. The Peregrine Fund mission supports conservation efforts around the world. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

A longer list of Yosemite projects and how you can help is available at yosemiteconservancy.org.

“With four million visitors each year, Yosemite needs to be nurtured to remain a national treasure,” Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean said. “Restoring trails and habitat, protecting vulnerable wildlife and inspiring people to take care of the natural world are a few examples of how donor support protects the park and enriches lives.”

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.
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