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National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

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National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Tue Feb 07, 2012 11:35 am

Court Finds National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Published on Jan 27, 2012 - 5:35:30 AM


By: High Sierra Hikers Association

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. Jan. 24, 2012 - A federal court has ruled that the National Park Service violated the Wilderness Act of 1964 when it approved a General Management Plan and adopted permits for commercial pack and saddle stock enterprises that operate within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These two magnificent national parks contain Giant Sequoia groves, sublime alpine lake basins, and the highest peaks in the contiguous United States, and are home to threatened wildlife, including most of the remaining bands of endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. The two parks (managed as a single unit) are considered by many to be the crown jewel of John Muir's "Range of Light."

In 2009, the High Sierra Hikers Association filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the General Management Plan (GMP) and certain commercial permits adopted by the National Park Service at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. High Sierra Hikers Association, a 600-member non-profit organization dedicated to improving management of the federal lands in the Sierra Nevada, was concerned that the GMP and commercial permits allowed excessive and harmful use of fragile park lands by pack and saddle stock animals (i.e., horses & mules).

As early as 1971, the Park Service acknowledged "damage resulting from livestock foraging for food and the resultant trampling of soils, possible pollution of water and conflict with foot travelers" due to unchecked stock use at the parks. More recent studies have shown that the use of stock animals at the parks has resulted in soil erosion, degradation of wildlife habitat, bacterial contamination of water, introduction of invasive weeds, and other harm to park resources—yet the Park Service still has no upper limit on the level of stock use that is allowed.

The Park Service issues permits to numerous private enterprises, known as "packers," to provide saddle horses, pack mules, guides, chefs, and camping gear to their clients in a wilderness setting. The HSHA's lawsuit alleged, in part, that the Park Service violated the Wilderness Act by allowing extensive commercial activities in the parks without first finding that the commercial enterprises were necessary and proper. Today, a federal court agreed, ruling that both the GMP and permits were unlawful. The court will now hold further proceedings to consider what to do about the violations.

"The Park Service has ignored and evaded the requirements of the Wilderness Act for decades," said Peter Browning, president of the High Sierra Hikers Association. "We hope that this court decision will prompt the Park Service to follow the law by limiting stock use and commercial services in our national parks to those that are truly necessary and not harmful to park resources."

To view the court's order, visit: http://www.highsierrahikers.org/resources_index.html

The High Sierra Hikers Association, a registered nonprofit public benefit organization based in Berkeley, CA, has more than 600 members from 28 states. The HSHA seeks to educate its members, public officials, and the public-at-large about issues affecting the High Sierra, and seeks to improve management practices on federal lands in the Sierra Nevada for the public benefit.



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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Feb 07, 2012 6:08 pm

Horse use has its place and I am not against it per se. The damage one horse does depends entirely on the skill and ethics of the horsepacker (including the time of year they use the trails). I do not think you can make blanket statements about damage. I would be a bit careful what we wish for. Before you know it the number of bacpkacer permits will be deemed in violation of the Wilderness Act. Perhaps trail maintanence is in violation of the Wilderness Act. Maybe they will just lock up the whole place so we horrible humans do not do any damage. I consider myself a conservationist, but am also pro-access. The same issues with horses can be applied to human use.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby LMBSGV » Tue Feb 07, 2012 9:35 pm

This decision helps explain the impetus behind the Wilderness Stewardship Plan. See here for more info:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome ... ctID=33225

If you have the time, the public scoping comments make interesting reading:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cf ... ntID=43666

I confess that my time being limited, I've only made it part way through. I do find it heartening the number of comments received from individuals versus the usual interest groups weighing in and dominating the discussion.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Ikan Mas » Tue Feb 07, 2012 9:41 pm

I see this as a move against commercial packers, not the individual on his own horse. I have been concerned for some time that you can bring in more horses than people, despite the fact that horses cause far more damage than humans. When I hiked into Rush Creek last summer, the damage by day tripping packers taking young girls on horsee rides was significant. We found picket lines and tarped structures that had been left up between clients by the packers in Ansel Adams. Unfortunately, if the packers cannot get into national parks, they will overwhelm the non-NPS wilderness. I do not begrudge the packers, but things are getting out of hand. I'm interested to see where this goes.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:29 am

Overall the concern about stock use in the High Sierra is laughable when compared with historic use levels. Remember John Muir"s description of "hoofed locusts" in the High Sierra? Remember that the Sierra Club routinely used as many as 200 head of pack animals to carry gear for their summer trips? When the Roaring River/Sugarloaf Valley were included in Kings Canyon NP around 1940 1000 head of cattle grazed the basin from spring to fall. In the late 50's to early 60's 5 pack stations served the west side area just s. of Yosemite from Beasore meadows to the present and only currently operating Minarets Pack Station. I would guess that the number of domestic animals in the High Sierra is far less than 5% of peak historical use.

When I began backpacking every trip on Forest Service lands involved encounters with cattle and many meadows reeked of urine and cow dung. I haven't encountered a cow in years. In the late 80s I replicated photos taken of Meadows in the Sugarloaf/ Roaring River in 1940. Meadows that appeared to be mowed as close as a putting green but covered with cow pies in 1940 are now lushly covered with tall grasses and sedges. A remarkable comeback.

In the 50's and early 60's I wouldn't encounter just a packtrain or two when on the trails but several. Now I seldom see a packtrain more than a day's trip from a TH. The most common use of stock now days is a "spot trip" where the packer takes a group in as far as he/she can get to and return to the packstation in a single day. Yep that first day from the trailhead is still dusty. Yep mishandled stock still can and do cause problems. But I may have said this before, most of the adverse changes I have seen since the 50's is related to backpacking--Litter in places no horse can reach, user trails in no place a horse can reach, more people so less opportunity for solitude.

Finally, as I recall the Wilderness Act Permitted existing uses. But as we eliminate these uses one by one at what point will someone decide that even backpacking is detrimental to protecting Wilderness Values?

The crux of the problem is that the NPS is not very good at doing plans that meet the requirements of NEPA. After decades of being the sole judge of what needs to be done to protect National Parks it has been a difficult adjustment to write plans with appropriate analysis that will enable the public and then judges to understand the logic and science behind their decisions.

The bottom line for me is that domestic stock use in the sierra should be regulated but if the objective is 0% negative impact then decisions based on that requirement will likely serve as a precedent in the future to eliminate all human use in "Wilderness."

So as someone else said, "be careful what you wish for."

Cheers!

Mike
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby gary c. » Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:47 pm

I gree with most all of what oldranger just wrote. When I first read the news report and saw the suit was filed by the High Sierra Hikers Assoc. all I could think was organizations should be working together for everyones benifit and access, not fighting and filing suit to keep one another out.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Thu Feb 09, 2012 2:45 am

The NPS is not above the laws of the US. They must obey the law as much as any one of us. Shame on them for NOT obeying the Wilderness Act. As is often the case, it took a lawsuit to hopefully do the right thing.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:42 am

There is a difference between violating the substance of the law and losing arguments in court. Having worked in government planning for the last 15 years of my working life I was frustrated by the inability of the agencies I was working for to adequately articulate costs/benefits of the work they were doing when challenged either in the planning process or in the courts. The only thing that consistently worked were field trips and photo documentation. In court photo documentation of one worst case scenario was often taken as evidence of gross negligence across the board when that simply was not true. Unfortunately rather than pointing out how that worst case was unique and how it was being dealt with the attorneys presenting the case would cave and concede. The result is requiring perfection and in the real world that is not possible. Think about it. Imagine a few pics of trash left by backpackers used as evidence that backpacking should not be permitted, or a few user created trails on crosscountry routes across meadows as evidence that crosscountry travel should not be permitted. I think that in court I could present a compelling case that such uses should not be permitted.

My problem with court decisions is that many times they result in a zero sum result--either continue or stop. Stock use was not one of the uses in the Wilderness Act that were prohibited except in certain specific situations. Eliminating stock will have a whole set of unintended consequences, including either more helicopter use to support trail maintenance or since some one could challenge such use of the helicopter as not necessary then perhaps significantly less trail maintenance (as with the forest service). If either stock or helicopter support were eliminated then key passes on the Muir Trail or PCT could become virtually cross country routes in a few years. Remember that agencies were given no money in the Wilderness Act to Manage Wilderness. That means that given the total number of users in National Parks that as small as it's share is Wilderness Management gets more than its share of resources. Make it more expensive to manage and you will get fewer and smaller trail crews and fewer backcountry rangers. (this is not to imply that stock use should not be carefully managed.)

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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Thu Feb 09, 2012 1:28 pm

A permit quota system is in place to protect the natural resources, the environment and the wilderness experience for its users. All Sierra backpackers are familiar with this system. Is it asking too much for commercial packers to play by the same rules. I believe that commercial packers can write as many permits as they have customers for. There is NO upper limit. Seems like they have found a loophole in the permit quota system and are profitting by it. The impacts on some trails caused by multiple pack trains bringing people and supplies in and out is clearly evident. Seems to me that trail damage cause by pack animals is greater than that caused by backpacking. Why not manage these businesses and their impacts on the wilderness, as is the case with backpackers? Why are they treated special? Why?
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:16 pm

I am more familiar with commercial outfitter management in Wyoming than the Sierra. It is my understanding that the agency ( for example, FS) does limit the number of commercial licenses for each specific area or trailhead. Then each packer has to get a permit for each trip. Each permit is handled individually. I doubt agency managers allow unlimited use. You may feel the use is too high, but I really do not see hordes of people being packed in. I think the cost of the service is a limiting factor. I also think that number of horses are limited based on grazing capacity. I would rather see commercial packers regulated case-by-case rather than by setting arbitrary limits. This allows flexibility to balance the number of horses with the need of the packer to make a living. I personally know some packers and they certainly are not raking in the money. I do not think that the commercial user should be under the exact same regulation as the recreational user. Commercial mountaineering guides also are under the commercial license regulations. There certainly could be some better management and some change in rules, such as evaluating each stock animal differently. A horse is not the same as a pack goat. The National Parks have an entirely different mission statement than the Forest Service and therefore, should have different regulations. Honestly, I have seen very few commercial packers in the Sierra, compared to Wyoming. All the backpackers on the JMT are a lot more annoying than any horse packer I have seen. I have seen a few private horse groups who have left garbage and who have been poor stewards of the wilderness (mostly in the Emigrant Wilderness). Fixing this is a matter of attitude and eductation. Changing attitudes and education takes time- perhaps generations, but I think it is a better way to go. There already is a lot of backlash against environmentalists. This just adds fuel to the fire.

There are people on this forum who know a lot more than me about commercial regulations in the Sierra. I find it doubious that there are absolutely no limits imposed.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby sparky » Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:28 pm

Obvious damage by packers is NOT widespread in the sierra. Yes I have come across it here and there. It seems fairly isolated, then again I havnt traveled in every corner. Saying that I could care less if packers are eliminated as they do annoy me and I get pissed when I come across damage.

Saying that, large groups of hikers annoy me when Im off trail. I have seen a disturbing amount of footprints in some alpine meadows too. I see trash above treeline just about everywhere i go.

I dont like the damage and i certainly dont like laws.....

Im just as annoyed by this countrys need to create laws based on the most stupid and careless.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby gdurkee » Thu Feb 09, 2012 5:10 pm

However much it pains me, I must rise in respectful disagreement with my colleague and fellow elder, Oldranger. This is not simply a case of a poorly written environmental document and a case decided on some niggling point of law. Under the Wilderness Act, stock can be justified in a National Park wilderness only to the extent that the animals further wilderness qualities: either by supporting the maintenance of wilderness trails or facilities or by allowing visitors to experience wilderness by being transported into it by stock. The animals themselves have no intrinsic rights to be in wilderness independent of their support of allowable human activity.

HSHA based much of their case on documented and widespread impacts: water quality as a result of manure; impacts on meadows from grazing (removing tons of vegetation each year) and mechanical impacts as a result of rolling in meadows causing loss of vegetation; streambank erosion when they go to drink & etc. It is not just the minor annoyance of manure or dust on trails.

The real question, not so clearly stated in the opinion, is whether these impacts are justified by the very small numbers of people the horses and mules bring in to the Wilderness. This is, though, addressed by the court's finding that NPS needs to determine if those impacts are justified by requiring NPS to carry out the "finding of necessity" to determine if continued stock use (and likely at what level) will be allowed.

To carry one person into the park's wilderness for, say, three nights usually requires three to four animals and one packer. Estimates vary, but a conservative multiplier of the impact of a single horse over that of a human on foot is about 20 times the impact. So one person wanting a recreation experience on a stock-supported trip for three nights will cause at least 60 times the impact vs. a single person just hiking without that stock support.

There are also glaring differences in how impacts from people are regulated and how impacts from stock are regulated. If a scout troop of 15 people were to camp directly on an alpine meadow, remove grass for beds, and dig holes for their fire pits they would, justifiably, be cited for the violations. If a group of 15 horses and mules (supporting a party of, say, 5 people) remove that same grass by eating it, then roll in the meadows (which they do) creating "roll pits" devoid of vegetation, that's considered an acceptable impact by NPS until a certain level is reached. A local ranger or biologist can determine that impact has become unacceptable and stop or limit grazing, but only AFTER the damage has occurred. In the case of the scouts, existing regulations prevent them from camping in the meadow in the first place. The meadows are fairly well protected from the impacts of people, but not from the impacts of stock.

This was not a frivolous nor sudden claim by HSHA. They have a very long history of attempting to change NPS and USFS policy on stock use, suggesting mitigation the agencies could take to reduce impacts. At trial, they presented a number of memos and letters from many years of NPS promising to do so, but were never followed up on.

So what this decision says is that NPS violated the Wilderness Act by not considering the necessity of allowing commercial (and only commercial) stock users when they wrote and published their General Management Plan. NPS admitted they did not do a Finding of Necessity and also admitted it was in violation of the Wilderness Act. In a remedy hearing, this may lead to throwing out the GMP.

The court did not find NPS in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for, as HSHA contends, failing to consider a number of specific impacts that stock have on the park's backcountry (not necessirily designated wilderness).

So commercial stock is not banned at the moment, and I doubt it will be. It may, though, eventually be much more restricted.

George
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