The Sierra Nevada Mountains have unparalleled beauty and attract tourists and recreationists from California, the U.S., and around the world. The Sierra contains some of the world’s outstanding natural features such as Lake Tahoe, Yosemite Valley, Mono Lake, and the Sequoia Big Trees. Yosemite National Park was the first state park formed in the U.S. in 1864.
Recreational opportunities in the Sierra Nevadas include hiking, biking, swimming, hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, photography, painting, and much more.
Early settlers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were concerned with survival. Gold Rush Miners mined the streams for surface placer deposits (1849-1855). This was followed by hydraulic mining and hardrock mining. Hydraulic mining has negative impacts on streams and rivers that remain today. Towns built up around the mining camps. Forests were cut to supply timber for the mines, timber for the local communities, and for export. The use of steam engines for power also consumed timber. Farmers and ranchers settled to supply food to the mining communities, clearing land for agriculture. Westward expansion of the U.S. and policies of the U.S. government to settle the west through the Homestead Act and other legislation all lead to environmental impacts in the Sierra Nevadas. Fortunately, conservationists stepped forward to protect critical areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and legislation was passed by local, state, and federal government for protection of natural resources.
The democratization of tourism in the U.S. coincided with the birth of the National Park Service in 1916. Parks became accessible to people from all walks of life and the number of visitors increased steadily. This movement was supported by the railroad industry, which built hotels and promoted the Parks for tourism. The railroads took advantage of World War I, which closed off overseas tourist travel. The boom period of tourism was, however, the post-World-War II era due to a rising middle class in the U.S. and greater disposable income. The highway system was developed, partly due to the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Increased access to remote and rural areas was facilitated by cars and highways. Arguably, the adoption of the automobile was just as, or even more, destructive to the natural resources of the Sierra Nevada Mountains than the early unregulated mining or forest industries.
Increasing urbanization and suburbanization in California after the 1950's led to an increasing demand for recreational opportunities and development of recreational facilities (ski hills, lodges, hotels, restaurants, hiking trails, biking trails, etc.). The population of California grew from 10.6 million people in 1970 to 37.2 million people by 2010. By the 1970's due to a growing population and the need to control development, various pieces of legislation were passed to protect the environment on a federal level, including the Clean Water Act. the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act. California followed with its own legislation, to keep control on a state rather than federal level, including the California Environmental Quality Act.
Today, there are competing interests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for land use. This includes housing and commercial development. It also includes resource uses such as mining, forestry, agriculture, and recreation. All of these uses are important to society and to residents of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Sierrans for Responsible Resource Development (the "Sierrans") supports the responsible and sustainable development of the resources in the Sierra Nevada Mountains - including all natural resources. The Sierrans believe that industries such as mining, forestry, and agriculture can co-exist with residential and commercoal development, as well as recreation. This includes access to private and public land needed for the resource industries.