Page 2 of 10

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:28 pm
by sparky
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.

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 5:10 pm
by gdurkee
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.


Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:16 pm
by BrianF
I think there is no doubt that the impact of horses is far greater than that of humans on foot. Most designated horse camps are very overused as well Although I am not completely against the use of stock in wilderness areas, there is much that could be done to prevent alot of the damage George is talking about. A big step would to be to limit stock to day trips only. As OR points out that seems to be a larger part of the packers business anyway and that would reduce the time horses spend grazing and rolling. That and banning horses from the meadows entirely would go a long way. I wouldn't mind a requirement to scoop poop as well, even a junior hand with a pack horse, a shovel and a couple of garbage bags cleaning the route once or twice a week would be an improvement.

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:25 pm
by oldranger
By the way, George, what is the percentage of stock nights in the backcountry by user type, government, private, and commercial? In my experience over grazing was always the result of government stock use that the backcountry ranger had no control over.


Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 2:22 pm
by atreehugger
The following is an excerpt from a "FOREST SERVICE EMPLOYEES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS" newsletter from July/August 2000, concerning a different lawsuit. I post this in an attempt to get a better understanding of the rules and regulations pertaining to commercial packers. This is the link for the whole story:" onclick=";return false;

I don't know if the permit and quota info is still accurate today; hopefully someone will weigh in with that info.................

Unfortunately, for nearly two decades, the Forest Service has deviated from its own management direction, failing to limit the number of people who can visit the most popular areas at any one time. In particular, the agency has illegally exempted commercial outfitters and guides from the quotas (November/December 1999). The Forest Service has even allowed outfitters and guides to issue their own wilderness permits to their clients. Meanwhile, the agency limits access for private citizens who want to visit the areas on foot or horseback. In effect, the Forest Service has allowed commercial enterprises to sell privileged access to both the Ansel Adams and the John Muir wilderness areas, a practice that has resulted in severe overcrowding on summer weekends and holidays. The agency’s failure to limit use within established capacities has inflicted unacceptable damage to mountain meadows and popular lake basins.

“The Inyo and Sierra national forests have consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to limit wilderness use even though the law requires it,” said Gary Guenther, a former wilderness ranger for the Inyo National Forest. Guenther resigned from the Forest Service in 1995 in part because of concerns over the agency’s illegal permitting practices.

Last year, FSEEE asked the supervisors of the Inyo and Sierra national forests to obey the law and follow their own wilderness management plans. The agency refused. “The Forest Service appears to be dragging its feet in an attempt to avoid making the difficult, sometimes controversial decisions needed to protect the wilderness from overuse,” FSEEE field director Bob Dale said. “We’re hopeful that this lawsuit will lead to an equitable solution that safeguards wilderness values.”

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:09 pm
by rlown
atreehugger, what do you want from this thread?

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:12 pm
by quentinc
Well, I think he's already sparked some very interesting exchanges, particular George's excellent post which I think neatly summarizes the concerns. Also, I knew that that lawsuit was pending, but I didn't know there had been a decision, so thanks for that information.

One of the reason I am not a member of the Sierra Club is their sponsorship of mule pack trips. I think those do have a place for the elderly, very young and disabled, but I suspect those groups constitute a very small portion of packers' clientele. Disgust with what packers do to trails is what has led me to tailor my trips to get off trail as soon as possible. Also, it has made me appreciate snow on the trails (good thing for last summer!). But, as OR says, it does seem that pack station use has dropped off, as I guess people are losing interest in those types of trips. It would be interesting if someone had statistics on that.

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:07 pm
by Wandering Daisy
I have used commercial packers several times in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming. They were a godsend when the kids got to that age where they were too old to ride in the pack and not yet ready for long hikes. We were able to get packed into remote areas as a family, with babies up to grandparents. Hunting is the bread-and-butter for most commercial packers in Wyoming. They probably make more during hunting season than the rest of the year. I am going to use two resupply drops this summer to do a 35 day trip. I am not disabled in the least. It just allows me to be totally in the wilderness without the disruption of coming back into civilization to pick up food. It is an entirely different experience. I have great respect for good packers. Yes, there are some bad ones. There need to be some regulation and some enforcement. More so, education. There are times and places where stock use is appropriate.

As for being grossed out by areas where horses run, it depends on one's background. If you ever spent much time on a ranch, horse droppings are not considered all that yucky. I have seen some very over-used campsites in Emigrant Wilderness and a few areas that were pretty bad due to cattle grazing, but overall, I have found few of my encounters with packers or travels on trails used by horses to be unpleasant. The use of packers has declined because fewer people are going outdoors at all and Cailfornians are not that keen on hunting. Most people do not use packers because it is VERY expensive. And the envrionmentalists of California have a strong bias against using a packer. I would even call it a downright prejudice. But I have spent much of my backpacking in areas where you regularly see horses and backcountry users regularly tote guns and it does not really bother me per se. What does bother me are rude slobs on the trail be they on horses or on foot.

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:24 pm
by mokelumnekid
WD- I think the point here is not whether it "bothers" anybody, or assertions as to anyone's assumed personal prejudice (which I find somewhat condescending while I do take the point, I was raised on a ranch but don't cotton to the smell of horse crap when I go to the HIGH wilderness) or not, but whether demonstrable, quantifiable impacts are being produced. The HSHA (High Sierra Hikers Association) was always clear that their position was not that they blindly or naively opposed back-country stock usage- their point was that the agency's worked at a manifest double standard in terms of enforcing regulations on hikers and professional packers. The HSHA is not trying to eliminate commercial packers, only trying to bring some order and uniformity to the application of standards for usage impacts. That their case was sufficiently robust to warrant the recent legal decision doesn't indicate that they are "environmental sentimentalists" playing to a judiciary of city slickers, but rather that the double standards, and related impacts, have been plain as day (in the USFS as well). [-X

I would never support a position that called for outright bans on commercial packers. They play an important role in providing access for a diverse group of folks who are wired differently than me. But I would support having that activity meet common standards that the agencies own scientific staff endorse. :thumbsup:

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 11:05 pm
Well said/written, mokelumnekid. One of the things I said in my comments on the Wilderness Stewardship Plan was that everyone should abide by the same rules and that commercial outfitters be held responsible for educating their clients. Being held responsible means that they tell their clients the rules, report them when the irresponsible ones violate them, and when they fail to report, suffer the consequences of possibly losing their license with repeated violations.