The Epistemology of User Capacity in Yosemite Valley: A case study of the Merced River Plan

Authors: Daniel Kunches*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Cultural and Political Ecology, Mountain Environments
Keywords: Yosemite National Park, User Capacity, Epistemology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Iris, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Merced River, in California's Sierra Nevada Range, runs through heavily-visited Yosemite Valley. Among the management actions of the Merced River Plan is the establishment of a user capacity program, for Yosemite Valley, that seeks to balance the public use of public land with the protection of environmental resources, both of which are management imperatives in Yosemite National Park. User capacity is a nuance of the carrying capacity concept, which has a long history in the field of natural resource management with a variety of results. This paper explores the epistemology of the carrying capacity concept up through its employment as user capacity developed in the Merced River Plan. The carrying capacity concept has been widely utilized, with applications in Malthusian demography, range management, population biology and others. These equilibrium ecologies have drawn criticism in geography and other fields, but the carrying capacity concept itself has persisted as a tool in government agencies. The most recent forum for the development of the capacity concept has been in recreation management as recreation user numbers increase. The Merced River Plan identifies a user capacity for Yosemite Valley by couching visitor use management within environmental standards and indicators that have been established through a planning process for the Merced River Corridor. This paper engages the geographic and temporal scales of user capacity in the Merced River Plan, within the context of increasing levels of environmental variability, as a critique of the user capacity approach to resource management in an increasingly dynamic social-ecological system.

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