Project goal: Assess the condition of Yosemite’s forests, including how much carbon they store, using data gathered with laser-based technology (lidar).

Why this work matters: Climate change brings unprecedented challenges to Yosemite’s forests. Lidar data offers resource managers a unique opportunity to expand their understanding of current forest conditions, and to explore ways to boost ecosystem resilience as average temperatures rise, fires intensify and the Sierra snowpack dwindles.

Lidar — sometimes defined as an acronym for “light detection and ranging” or as a hybrid of light and radar — is a method of measuring distance using remote sensors that emit and record laser pulses. Airborne lidar systems are especially useful for studying forests: They can map the upper levels of leaves and branches that form canopies, create elevation profiles, identify dead trees and measure carbon storage.

Through this project, Yosemite staff are working with University of Washington researchers to analyze parkwide lidar data that was collected with support from a prior Conservancy-funded grant, with a focus on forests. This Yosemite-based research is part of the Southern Sierra All-lands Restoration and Resilience Program (SSARR), a broad effort to study and restore landscape and watershed health in the Sierra Nevada.

Analyzing the lidar data will yield insights and tools that will help teams throughout and beyond the park, whether they’re evaluating how well a particular forested area could withstand fire or drought; identifying potential habitat for threatened wildlife, such as great gray owls; or finding hazardous trees that could pose a threat to visitors or structures.

How your support helped: Your support helped park researchers work on turning an expansive collection of lidar measurements into a detailed portrait of Yosemite’s landscapes. By funding this project, you contributed to a critical research and restoration effort that reaches beyond the park, with major implications for managing and protecting the Sierra Nevada’s wildlife and wild lands as the climate changes.

Project partners: Yosemite National Park, University of Washington, and Southern Sierra All-lands Restoration and Resilience Program.