Project overview: Work with tribal and youth crews to minimize modern human impacts on wilderness ecosystems, including by removing informal trails and oversized backcountry campsites.

The backstory: Nearly 95% of Yosemite is congressionally designated wilderness, the highest level of protection for public lands. The park’s vast backcountry welcomes thousands of hikers and backpackers each year, with numbers increasing as wilderness travel gains in popularity. Those travelers can inadvertently affect wilderness ecosystems, by setting up camp in sensitive areas, trampling plants and soil, and spreading invasive plant seeds.

The long-running Keep It Wild program, which our donors have supported since 1988, addresses three common issues:

  • Backcountry campsites located too close to water or trails, which can negatively affect ecosystems and disturb the solitude many wilderness-goers seek.
  • Informal “social” trails, which can disrupt habitat and natural water flow.
  • Non-native plant populations, which threaten native species and biodiversity.

Through Keep It Wild, National Park Service teams work with volunteers, including a five-week Student Conservation Association crew, to survey thousands of acres; remove hundreds of campsites, trails and invasive plants; and restore natural topography, vegetation and hydrology. Their work re-establishes ecological integrity, makes wilderness more resilient and helps minimize human impacts. This, in turn, can help prevent future impacts, by removing visible examples of habitat-harming behaviors, such as large fire rings on lakeshores, which might tempt others to leave similar traces.

Conservancy donors’ long-term support of Keep It Wild correlates to a steady downward trend in hikers creating backcountry campsites that are too large or too close to water. The decline in concentrated impacts has allowed the Keep It Wild crew to shift to a “roving” model: Rather than having to set up a long-term basecamp in order to focus on a specific heavily affected area, the crew moves nimbly from place to place throughout the season, covering more ground and limiting their own impact on the wilderness.

This year: In 2021, your gifts will help fund another successful season of surveys and restoration work to revitalize and protect habitat throughout the Yosemite Wilderness. If pandemic conditions permit, the park hopes to work with youth from the Student Conservation Association, and from Native American tribes in Mono and Inyo counties, with a focus on incorporating traditional ecological knowledge into wilderness stewardship. By supporting this project, you’ll help inspire environmental caretakers, not only among Keep It Wild crew members, but also among the countless people who will get to experience wild, intact ecosystems in the park, thanks to this restoration program.

Project partner: Yosemite National Park.

Victoria Hartman

Vegetation and Ecological Restoration, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“Keep It Wild enhances and protects the natural process and plant and animal communities that make up the dynamic Yosemite Wilderness.”