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Yosemite Nature Notes 46(2) (1977)


Frederick Law Olmsted
[click to enlarge]
Frederick Law Olmsted
marmots
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“Marmot Point?”

Chris Russo

It is always satisfying to find that some people have been farsighted. In 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted, in his preliminary report on the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Trees stated: “It is important that it should be remembered that in permitting the sacrifice of anything that would be of the slightest value to future visitors to the convenience, bad taste, playfulness, carelessness, or wanton destructiveness of present visitors, we probably yield in each case the interest of uncounted millions to the selfishness of a few individuals.”

If today Olmsted were to visit the scenic view point on the Tioga Road which has been named for him, he undoubtedly would find it humiliating to overhear visitors referring to the lookout as “Marmot Point”. A similar consciousness is behind the recent changing of the name of the “Audubon’s” warbler to “yellow rumped” warbler. Perhaps the new names are descriptive of their carriers, but they no longer commemorate the ideas and contributions of their former namesakes.

Why and how did these name-changes come about? The title “yellow rumped” came after careful observation and study of two warbler species. It was discovered that these species interbreed, and they have been lumped together as a single variety. The warblers’ names were changed because of new observations of natural processes. “Marmot Point” resulted from the abundance of the mammals at this turnout. Curious visitors provided unnatural food sources for the marmots, causing an over-concentration of these animals.

Scientists could write profusely on the effects of preservatives, salts, starches, etc. which the animals obtain while eating potato chips, peanuts, and candy bars. These foods are found to be harmful to the animals. A scientist could describe the internal problems these animals face after eating these foods. Among them would be constipation, diarrhea, thirst, weakened muscles and improper fat for true hibernation! How would you feel after a day’s diet of peanuts, candy bars and potato chips?

Feeding the animals is harmful to humans, as well. People who extend their arms to the animals tend almost to be blinded. Their vision becomes concentrated solely on the plump bellies of the animals and their fore paws. They overlook the extended nails and the gnawing teeth. Unfortunately, the feeders deprive themselves of the experience of the entire animal. Many never even learn the identity of the animals they have just fed. When they tire of the feeding exercise and have taken a few snapshots, off they go in their cars, hoping to find another scenic point with animal concentrations just as rewarding as the last. They didn’t lift their heads to see, or move their feet to explore, or take time to listen.

Olmsted Point is truly a scenic stop with more than just marmots. With a little searching, one can find evidence of past glaciers; just a glance reveals glacier polish, domes and canyons. Listening, one can hear the pika, who rarely shows himself and who never trots up for food. Often the pika gathers plants for use in the winter when other animals are living off of their body fat; in this manner, it can survive under the snow-covered boulders without fear of starvation.

During late July and early August one might also hear the deep booming of the male blue grouse. Following the sound from the point, one sometimes can find and observe this chicken-like bird in a white pine, eating staminate cones. The natural populations of the pika and grouse, as well as the undestroyed view of Clouds Rest, and other glacial features are things Olmsted would be proud to protect for future generations. The concentrations of marmots, Stellar’s jays, and Clark’s nutcrackers are signs of the negative impact of man which so repulsed Olmsted.

Olmsted, in his preliminary report on Yosemite in 1865, further stated that: “The first point to be kept in mind then is the preservation and maintenance as exactly as is possible of the natural scenery.” He continued to write of the value of Yosemite as a museum of natural science. He feared the danger, indeed the certainty, that without care, many of its species might be lost and that many of its features might be defaced or destroyed.

It is hoped that the future will see more people with the sensitivity to realize that what they do in the Park, no matter how slight an action, effects what Olmsted called their museum of natural science. Yosemite is a park, not a zoo. It is a National Park for everyone to visit, enjoy and preserve!



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