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.
Hmmm.I haven't checked in here in a while. I'll try to catch up.
Atreehugger -- no, it's a very good discussion you started. The whole concept of what Wilderness is, what it's for, what parks are for etc. is a constantly moving target and always needs discussion. Mike & I, at least, are aging (though very gracefully so!) baby boomers. So discussions on Wilderness, the environmental movement etc. that occurred in the 60s and 70s shaped our attitudes. One of the things I always forget is that my attitudes and philosophy -- long established by both profession and being a child of the 60's -- are not the same experience that other users today have. There's a longer and even more acrimonious discussion going on another board that veered off into whether bikes should be allowed on wilderness trails. A (presumably) younger and very vocal group doesn't see the conflict and is pretty defiant about the law.
But anyway, to Mike's question above. I think it's around 50/50 between Admin stock use (horses & mules used by NPS) vs. commercial. Private generates some very small numbers but in areas I've worked, it's almost negligible. Admin use has to stick to the same grazing limits and regulations as anyone so it's not really one or the other that's responsible for relative impacts -- it's the total. And that's kind of the point. There are only a few meadows with established number of grazing nights -- if those are exceeded, then grazing is stopped. But it's a game of checkers because that just sends the stock users to another meadow (or, I guess, whack-a-mole?). So without an overall reduction of stock use nights or limits for basins, the problem of stock impacts isn't really addressed by closing any specific meadow. The use just moves. The totals aren't reduced.
HSHA lawsuit only dealt with how commercial permits were addressed by the GMP because that was the only point of law immediately vulnerable (if I understand the whole thing -- not a sure thing...). No question Admin use is a huge impact. Theoretically the use of Administrative stock in the backcountry/Wilderness is managed under the Minimum Tool concept. That is (well, you know this MIke, but I'll throw it out there for everyone), whatever method/tool being used to accomplish a task in Wilderness should have the least environmental impact. So to transport equipment and crews into the backcountry you've got foot, stock, helicopter or, of course, not doing it.
Helicopter, incidentally, is specifically listed as one of the minimum tools that can be considered.
Also, the earlier point raised on pack stations being allowed to exceed daily totals. That is, a trailhead is limited to, say, 30 people per day. For a long time, pack stations could exceed that total. If the trailhead was full, they could just go over it. There were scout groups who were well aware of this and would contract to have their stuff hauled up by a packer. That way they didn't have to worry about having their permit denied because the day's quota was full.
I don't know if that's still the case though. I think it is but am not sure. I vaguely heard that, for USFS anyway, they look at it as "borrowing" from future days where the quota won't be filled. I definitely need to check into that. It's always been a glaring exception to the very reason for a daily maximum on the trail -- to keep numbers low and so preserve a feeling of wilderness as well as spread out actual physical impacts.
But even then, there is no limit on how many stock trips can go from a trailhead per day. The only limitation on stock is that they can't have more than 20 head per trip. There's a maximum of 15 people per trip for everyone -- scouts, church groups, whatever. The convoluted reasoning once explained to me is that it would take 20 animals to carry the gear and people of the maximum group size of 15 people. So clearly the impacts that determine setting a carrying capacity for a trailhead and a person group size of 15 people are not the same that set an unlimited number of stock trips and maximum of 20 head per group.
Eeeeek. You might have to read that a few times. A little confusing on so many levels... .
Finally, I think what's missing in much of the court decision and even to a certain extent the discussion here, is to what extent visitors have a right to expect seeing an absolutely pristine meadow when they're traveling in WIlderness? The unfortunate reality is that there are few meadows along the length of the John Muir Trail that a user (whether a stock user or backpacker) can camp at and see a meadow where grazing is not allowed and where the grasses and beldings and ducks etc. are allowed to go through their life cycle without the possible impacts of horses eating their habitat. As Randy Morgenson once put it:
All the meadows in Evolution Valley were grazed this summer, and they all looked it. Yet Franklin Meadow apparently was not, and in October it was a place of knee high grasses, ripe and open panicles drifting on the moving air, luminous-bronze in the backlight. It was a very different place and a very different emotional experience of a mountain meadow, and entirely consistent with what one might rightly expect of a national park backcountry. It was a garden. I sometimes wonder whether range management concepts are any more applicable to our business than timber management concepts. The difference between a grazed meadow and a logged forest may only be one of scale.
--Randy Morgenson, 1989 McClure Meadow end of season report
"..luminous-bronze in the backlight." There's a reason Randy was such a great ranger... .