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National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby BrianF » Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:16 pm

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.
The direction you are moving in is what matters, not the place you happen to be -Colin Fletcher



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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:25 pm

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.

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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Fri Feb 10, 2012 2:22 pm

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:

http://www.fseee.org/forest-magazine/200393

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.”
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby rlown » Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:09 pm

atreehugger, what do you want from this thread?
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby quentinc » Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:12 pm

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.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:07 pm

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.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby mokelumnekid » Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:24 pm

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:
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby LMBSGV » 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.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Cross Country » Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:27 am

I really enjoyed almost everyones point of view and the following arguments of them, except for one. I didn't really get a positive take on the "Seems to me" argument. Like Wandering Daisey and oldranger said "be careful what you wish for". I realize that WD didn't literally say that. Courts really can take things too far. Lets be careful and not let non wilderness people (like court judges or lawmakers) take from us, something they just don't have the experience to appreciate.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:19 am

LMBSGV- I am not sure that it is realistic to expect a commercial packer (who really is in the hospitility business) to turn in their clients, after that client pays $1000 for a trip! This sort of reminds me of having teachers turn in kids of illegal workers. The packer has to manage his clients. The regulator knows where the packer has taken people. The regulator then has to deal with the packer, not the individual client. If a client is irresponsible enough to endanger a packer's livlihood, then that packer will simply not accept that client in the future. In the mean time, if it is a first time client, the packer will simply pick up after the slob and try to educate them and then decide if the slob is worth the risk in the future.

Mokulmnekid- sorry if I offended you, that certainly was not my intent. I started climbing in a group that was basically anti-horse. Then I was introduced to responsible horse packers. At first horse droppings and the flies got to my sensibilities. Now I just walk by them. Definitely, the degree to which the trail is impacted makes a difference! Howerver I do not think it is reasonable to run after a horse with a pooper-scooper. It actually may come to a system that separates horse users from backpackers, similar to the mountain bike trails vs hiker trails.

Anyway, I am a great believer in solutions to problems without resorting to sueing. It is sad that it has come to that. It is much better to get someone to buy into a solution than forcing it on them. The group that sued seemed to at least make a good effort before sueing. But I do worry about backlash and overzelous enforcement in the other direction.

One thing that has not been said, is that the trail is vital to a packers business, as is a clean and pleasant camp area. Packers who "foul their nests" are not likely to stay in business very long. And the packers themselves, know who are the bad apples in the bunch.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby balzaccom » Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:54 am

Good conversation here, and lots of good points.

One concern I raise again is that packers DO have a bigger impact on the wilderness, and what they are willing to deem acceptable (completely flattened vegetation, massive visible campsites) are not acceptable by most of the rest of us. So yes, packers need to be held accountable for the behavior of their clients ( this is true of hiking and climbing guides as well).

Almost all parks and national forests will close areas that get a lot of use to allow the vegetation to recover. But my experience is that the areas used by packers are often exempted from this practice. And if that's what the suit is about, then it's absolutely something that should be addressed.

Packers do tend to use the same sites over and over again, and often those sites get "built up." They are not alone in this, certainly, and I would love to see better enforcement to reduce this issue everywhere.

And yeah, I'd be willing to pay more to get that enforcement.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:23 am

You bring up a good point on campsites. I think that if a site is excessively used, it may be better to simply make it an established campsite. The question, particularly along the JMT is if it is better to have one very used site vs several slightly, yet obviously used, sites? Dispersed camping is good to a point, but sometimes results in more impact than one heavily used area. A lot of the Canadian wilderness areas only allow camping at established sites. I guess this is the contained impact vs disperse impact theories.

When considering diverse stakeholders, it is amazing what each thinks as "damage", "ugly", "wonderful", or not. Although not my style, most packers and many backpackers choose campsites (and prefer them) that are well used. They look like front-country campgrounds and that offers them some familiarity and comfort. I am not sure we need to impose our viewpoint on them regarding this. I do not have a problem with a packers somewhat established campsite as long as it is clean and no stuff is left. I would almost rather see one horse camp vs many in an area. The people who use a campsite where someone built a fire ring and a bench are still visitors to the wilderness- not permanant residents. I think there is a middle ground between total "leave no trace" and "permanent structures". Is a cairn a permanant structure? If yes, then kick it down. Is a trail sign a structure- then remove ALL of them. If no, then accept it for what it is- a useful trail marker. Is a trail a permanant structure? If yes, then eliminate them, if not then accept it as a means of allowing use of the wilderness. I do not see a minimally established campsite as any different. Leave no trace came after the Wilderness Act. It is a recommendation, not a law.

Balzaccom- you use Emigrant Wilderness a lot and this IS one wilderness that is more used by horses than most. It actually is the only place I have hiked in the Sierra where horse use has been very noticable. The east end of Huckleberry Lake certainly is one location that needs some regulation /enforcement!
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