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Court Rulings Resolve Little in Packhorse Flap

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Court Rulings Resolve Little in Packhorse Flap

Postby ERIC » Fri May 30, 2008 9:23 am

Court Rulings Resolve Little in Packhorse Flap

Posted on: Thursday, 29 May 2008, 12:00 CDT
By Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

May 29--In the ongoing legal battle between the U.S. Forest Service and environmental groups over commercial horsepacking in two Sierra Nevada wilderness areas, the only loser seems to be the taxpayer.

Months after throwing out a $7.5 million plan to manage horsepacking in the John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas, a federal judge has ordered only slim reductions in usage levels for commercial operators.

In her May 8 ruling, Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte reinstated the Forest Service's 2001 management plan and trimmed trail quotas for commercial stock use by 5%.

Laporte's latest decision, however, seems unlikely to halt the 8-year-old tussle between environmental groups, the Forest Service and 17 horsepacking outfits.

Gary Guenther, a former backcountry ranger who now serves as the eastern Sierra representative for Wilderness Watch, one of the case's three plaintiffs, said the limited measures ordered by the judge might not go far enough.

"It's great that the court did not allow an expansion of these businesses in fragile alpine wilderness," Guenther said. "But allowing 95% of historical use to continue is inappropriate where too many pack animals cause too much damage. It's essentially the status quo."

Sierra National Forest spokeswoman Sue Exline said she was unsure if the ruling would be appealed, adding the lawsuit has already cost tax payers "millions of dollars."

"It's time to get on with good management and get past this whole thing," Exline added.

The John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas, located between Yosemite and Kings Canyon national parks, encompass more than 800,000 acres and include some of the Sierra's most spectacular features, including Mount Whitney, the Minarets and hundreds of alpine lakes, streams and meadows.

Last October, Laporte ordered the Forest Service to vacate its 2005 management plan, ruling that some elements violated federal laws designed to protect wilderness areas. She ruled the plan allowed for "significantly increased commercial packstock use in some parts of the wilderness, including areas previously recognized by the Forest Service as already being heavily damaged from excessive stock use."

By reverting to the 2001 plan, horsepack operators again will be governed by a trail quota system that limits the number of stock that can enter a trail on a single day.

Laporte further ordered a 1 to 1.5 stock-to-person ratio for all commercial trips (the plantiffs had sought a 1 to 3 ratio) and prohibited all grazing and entry in areas inhabited by the endangered Yosemite toad. She also overturned provisions in the 2005 plan that would have permitted operators and their clients to have campfires in areas that are closed to the general public.

Allen Clyde, owner of Clyde Pack Outfitters, which operates out of Dinkey Creek and Wishon Reservoir, said he expects the dispute to continue.

"The money spent on this lawsuit comes out of the Forest Service's general fund, which comes out of the public's care of the wilderness," said Clyde, who considers himself a conservationist. "It could have been put to much better use."

The lawsuit applies only to commercial outfits and does not affect private stock users.

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6218.


To see more of The Fresno Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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