Passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) dramatically altered the way all federal agencies—including
the National Park Service—were required to approach and execute environmental planning and management. While responsibility
for environmental planning and compliance duties originated in the superintendent’s office, Yosemite National Park's Environmental
Planning and Compliance (EP&C) Branch of the Project Management Division was established in 1999 to ensure all projects taking
place in the park comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and other laws
and regulations as set forth in the National Park Service Director's Order #12.
To further enhance the purpose and policy of NEPA, Executive Order 11514 (1970) directed federal agencies to develop procedures
to ensure that the public can review, understand, and comment on environmental impacts in a timely manner. During the public
scoping period, the public is encouraged to provide concerns and comments that will determine the range of issues addressed
in a plan’s alternatives. A description of the proposal, including a statement of the purpose and need for the project and
a list of project goals, is provided by the park. The public is then asked to respond with comments, concerns, and suggestions
relating to these goals.
The growth of the Project Management Division and, subsequently the EP&C Branch is linked to the development of the Yosemite’s
long-range conceptual General Management Plan (GMP). The 1980 GMP was released to the public on October 31, 1980, after a
six-year planning process which included extensive public involvement. The primary goals of the 1980 GMP are to reclaim priceless
natural beauty, reduce cars and congestion, allow natural processes to prevail, reduce crowding, and promote visitor understanding
and enjoyment. Implementation projects were developed to realize the goals of the GMP; these projects required scoping, environmental
review, compliance, and permitting.
One of the objectives of the GMP was to remove nonessential employee housing from Yosemite Valley. The Yosemite Valley Housing
Plan (1992) was designed to address this objective. This plan proposed improvements to NPS, concessions, and visitor services
housing in the valley. The Yosemite Valley Housing Plan Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the General
Management Plan proposed five alternatives for housing 1,359 employees. The preferred alternative provided primary housing
for over 900 employees at a new development site in Foresta. When this alternative did not meet with public approval, a revised
Yosemite Valley Housing Plan SEIS was released and was open for public comment from late 1996 through March1997.
In 1993 the park invited public input for the Valley Implementation Plan (VIP). The VIP objectives also furthered the implementation
of the GMP, including removing unnecessary structures, restoring and protecting recovered land, relocating other facilities
out of sensitive or hazardous areas, and reducing traffic congestion in Yosemite Valley. Public input received centered around
the issues of transportation, employee housing, restoration of recovered lands, day use limits/reservation systems, and the
improvement of interpretive services.
The Draft VIP was scheduled for release in February 1997, but was delayed by record flooding of the park in early January,
1997. After the release of the draft in November 1997, a series of open houses and workshops were held throughout California,
as well as walking tours of sites where specific actions were proposed. Over 3,800 comment letters were received regarding
the Draft VIP SEIS and analyzed by staff at the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center.
Designated “Highwater 97A”, the 1997 flood severely damaged Yosemite Valley infrastructure, campgrounds, guest lodging, and
employee housing facilities. Park planners sought advice from within the agency and from the President’s Council on Environmental
Quality (CEQ). Project management determined that redesigning and rebuilding employee housing and guest lodging at Yosemite
Lodge would be a separate planning process from the VIP, and this was pursued as the Yosemite Lodge Design Concept Plan (DCP).The
intent of the DCP was to quickly restore services at the Lodge and implement the provisions of the 1980 GMP. This included
removing facilities from the newly-defined floodplain, restoring riparian habitat, reducing the number of lodging units, consolidating
concession housing, providing additional employee support functions, and reducing in the overall footprint of the Lodge complex.
Site plans for the Lodge were modified because of the extent of flooding and the need to replace more employee housing than
originally proposed. The most significant changes were the complete relocation of employee housing out of the floodplain to
the eastern portion of Camp 4 (Sunnyside Campground) and placement of new guest cabins, roadways, and parking lots north of
Northside Drive in the Swan Slab bouldering and climbing area. After site walk-throughs with NPS and concession services staff,
representatives of the environmental and climbing communities expressed strong negative reactions to the encroachment of facilities
into the Swan Slab area, the amount of new development, the aerial extent of the new proposal, and removal of the Lodge gas
Based on this initial input, changes were made to the preliminary VIP design. The Draft Yosemite Lodge Design Concept Plan/Environmental
Assessment (DCP/EA) was prepared and released to the public for a 30-day review and comment period. Numerous revisions were
made to the project, including deferring the proposed closure of Northside Drive back to the VIP. In July 1997, the park released
a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the Lodge DCP/EA. Park staff continued working on ways to address unresolved
issues that had been raised during the public comment phase.
On May 26, 1998, the group Friends of Yosemite Valley, along with the American Alpine Club, Access Fund, and several other
climbing organizations and prominent climbers filed suit in US District Court in San Francisco against the National Park Service
over the Yosemite Lodge DCP (Friends of Yosemite v. Babbitt). They alleged that the NPS had failed to prepare an environmental
impact statement on the project and to consider reasonable alternatives to the proposed action. They also claimed that the
park violated the NPS Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedures Act. Based
on negotiated limits to the scope of action on the Lodge project, plaintiffs did not seek a preliminary injunction, and work
at the Lodge continued. The NPS further modified the Lodge DCP and issued a Modified FONSI on August 3, 1998. The main modification
was to defer any action on employee housing at Yosemite Lodge to the Yosemite Valley Housing Plan. This decision would allow
consideration of the potential impacts of employee housing at Yosemite Lodge together with the impacts of other housing-related
issues in the same environmental document.
On August 20, 1998 the Sierra Club filed a related complaint (Sierra Club v. United States), charging violations of the Wild
and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act, and filed for a preliminary
injunction. The issues were argued before Judge Charles Breyer on October 1, 1998. All construction work was stopped at Yosemite
Lodge with Judge Breyer granting the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction; however, demolition of existing flood-damaged
buildings was not contested, and therefore continued.
Following the judge’s ruling, Yosemite management asked the judge for a remand to fold most elements of the Lodge DCP into
the Draft VIP Environmental Impact Statement, then in preparation for re-release. The issue of employee housing was to be
included in the Yosemite Valley Housing Plan/SEIS, due for completion in early fall. The new planning document for Yosemite
Valley would be an Addendum to the Draft VIP, to be released in late spring or early summer of 1999. The Environmental Impact
Statement for the Yosemite Valley Housing Plan would be released as an Addendum to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement,
at the same time as the VIP Addendum, to allow the public to review and comment on both documents together.
However, in late November, 1998 Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Regional Director John Reynolds, and Superintendent
Stan Albright decided to combine the Yosemite Valley Housing Plan, Yosemite Valley Implementation Plan, Yosemite Lodge DCP
and Lower Yosemite Fall Project into one comprehensive plan called the Yosemite Valley Plan (YVP). In this way, all the plans
would be covered by a single Environmental Impact Statement. Public concerns identified in the previous plans were brought
forward for planning the YVP. Scoping for the new plan was announced on December 16, 1998 and was to close on January 15,
1999. The scoping period was extended to February 1, 1999, because of public protest regarding the short duration of the scoping
period, and the fact that it occurred over the holidays. The team reviewing the public scoping comments consisted of five
Yosemite NPS employees; all letters were read and scoping level comments were added to a growing database of general and specific
comments. The Scoping Comment Analysis Report was made available to anyone interested in reading it. The Draft Yosemite Valley
Plan EIS was issued in November 1999; the public comment period closed July 7, 2000.
Meanwhile, flood recovery projects continued. Rehabilitation of El Portal Road (Highway 140), which was severely damaged in
the flood, was identified as a GMP project; however, it was not previously funded and its three phases were listed as low
priority. Funding through Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) allowed emergency repairs immediately after the
flood, and these were exempted from NEPA compliance. But the original, aged roadbed needed to be completely rebuilt. Flood
recovery funds were an opportunity to complete rehabilitation of El Portal Road, and detailed planning was begun within a
short time after the flood.
Park planners began preparation of a Draft El Portal Road Improvements Project Environmental Assessment (EA) in March,1997
and meetings were held with environmental groups, stakeholders, and Mariposa County Officials and Chamber of Commerce. The
plan had two proposed phases: Phase 1 involved emergency stabilization to restore two-way traffic, and Phase 2 consisted of
permanent roadbed repairs.
In an action that would ultimately influence future planning efforts, on May 6, 1999, the Sierra Club and Mariposans for Environmentally
Responsible Growth (MERG) filed suit, claiming violations of NEPA and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (Sierra Club and MERG
v. Bruce Babbitt, 69 F. Supp. 2nd 1202). On July 12, 1999, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii issued his decision in
a Memorandum and Order. Yosemite was allowed to complete construction on segments A, B, and C of the road, but Section D could
not be completed until the park completed a Comprehensive Management Plan for the Merced Wild and Scenic River. The judge
ordered the National Park Service to finalize a Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) within one year of the issuance of his
The CMP began in June, 1999 with a pre-Notice of Intent scoping period (June 11 - July 14) published in the Federal Register.
Responding to complaints from the public that the review period was too short, the NPS granted a two-week extension of the
scoping period through July 30, 1999.
Response letters were analyzed by the US Forest Service’s Content Analysis Enterprise Team (CAET). Summary reports identified
101 specific public concerns expressed in over 1000 comments. These summary reports, along with the individual comments organized
by topic, were given to the planning team for further analysis and incorporation into the planning process. Based in part
on evaluation of public comments, the park decided to prepare an environmental impact statement on the Merced River Plan and
not an environmental assessment. In mid-October, a summary of the CAET analysis was put on the park’s planning web page and
mailed to over 300 people who sent in scoping comments. The Draft MRP/EIS was scheduled for public review and comment during
January and February, 2000. The scope of public input analyzed in the CAET process included all responses submitted during
the comment period for the Draft Yosemite Valley Plan as well as public input on previous planning efforts. Thus, comments
on the 1992 Draft Yosemite Valley Housing Plan, the 1997 Addendum to the Yosemite Valley Housing Plan, the 1997 Yosemite Lodge
Comprehensive Design, the 1997 Yosemite Valley Implementation Plan, the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Merced River,
the 2000 Merced River Plan, and the initial scoping phase for the Draft Yosemite Valley Plan were all analyzed, considered,
and utilized to craft the Yosemite Valley Plan.
Projects designed to implement the goals of the GMP and YVP were accomplished through flood recovery funding awarded to the
park after Highwater 97A. Had it not been for the devastation of the flood, projects such as Lower Yosemite Fall Restoration
Project, El Portal Road Reconstruction, Hetch Hetchy Road Drainage Improvements, South Fork Merced River Bridge Replacement,
Happy Isles Bridge Removal, East Yosemite Valley Utilities Improvement Plan, Yosemite Valley Wastewater Improvement Project,
and construction of the El Portal Resource Management Building would have waited years for available funding to begin implementation.
The above information was drawn from the document, “DRAFT Yosemite Planning/Public Involvement History”, which can be found
in Series 1, Subseries B, sub-subseries 3, Folder 48.