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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 11:46 am
by gdurkee
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... .


Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 12:47 pm
by oldranger

Thanks for going into this in more detail. My point in asking about stock nights by NPS is that in my experience a large amount of the overnight use was not out of necessity but convenience. For example in Roaring River in the 80's the pack string supporting the trail crew consisted of, as I remember, 6 mules and two horses. However when the packer went out to resupply he would take a single horse and usually just 3 mules. The remainder of the string would be left to munch on meadows for the 4 days or so the packer was out and were typically unused (sometimes a single mule and the remaining horse would be use to move some tools but not often.)

Similarly as I recall though stock were used to relocate the trail crew in the Kern drainage most of the resupplies were done by Helicopter so than for the most part the stock was unused but nonetheless grazing. My point is that it was never clear to me that government stock use (in terms of the number of stock use nights) ever met the concept of minimum use needed.

I also agree that linking the number of stock to maximum group size is bizarre. My personal feeling is that 12 head is max and that groups just need to adjust. Same as groups who want to backpack off trail have limits in some places that do not apply to trail use. An exception could be acceptable for one day spot trips where stock do not remain in the backcountry over night

Finally I absolutely agree with Randy's assessment about the asthetics of ungrazed meadows. When I first read his quote I was surprised as I had been suggesting, at the same time (late 80's), that one meadow in Cloud Canyon and one meadow in Deadman should be left ungrazed each year (on a rotating basis) so that people could see what ungrazed meadows look like. There are lots of ungrazed or seldom grazed meadows in the Roaring River drainage but most are quite a bit off the beaten track. And while Randy and I agree about the esthetics of an ungrazed meadow I did encounter some people who liked their meadows as cropped as a golf course. So everyone in the backcountry does not share the same esthetics.


Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 2:11 pm
by quentinc
gdurkee wrote:
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.
Among the excellent points in George's post, this particularly got my attention. In thinking about it, if stock animals are permitted, why not bikes? Believe me, I'm not advocating this -- I already spend enough time in the Santa Monica mountains dodging kamikazes on narrow trails, including ones riding at night without lights. So I guess the rationale is safety? I've encountered (illegal) cyclists on the PCT in So Cal from time to time. They've always been considerate riders, and it's never bothered me. (The dirt bikes are another story). Of course, there is a hardly a blind turn or sharp switchback on the So Cal PCT, since they had a mandate to make it 500+ miles long and therefore laid it out as circuitously as physically as possible.

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 6:41 pm
by gdurkee
My point in asking about stock nights by NPS is that in my experience a large amount of the overnight use was not out of necessity but convenience.
Excellent point and one I totally forgot. Yes. As you may appreciate, I have to be a teensy bit careful here. But I have heard -- through a long and circuitous route of otherwise reliable sources; certainly none involved directly in my work for the extremely fine government organization I work for! -- that Administrate/NPS stock use is perhaps (perhaps!! but who could say for sure?!?!) a bit higher than it needs to be. One could observe that when stock are in the backcountry, they are eating for free and not eating store-bought hay. One could also observe that when stock are in the backcountry, they also don't need the extra long trips in and out requiring extra work by packers and then a truck to meet them at the trailhead. Now, I've heard that Kings trail crews regularly pack in and out, minimizing their time in the backcountry and, interestingly, minimizing their helicopter time. Other crews, in other nearby places, do exactly as you describe: keep large number of animals who, to a neutral observer, don't seem to be doing much work in supporting wilderness values such as helping maintain trails. AND, strangely, these same crews get a weekly helicopter food & gear resupply. Go figure... .

Just sayin'. Got no particular government-gained knowledge on this particular question. Ju's what I hear on the trail and other public forums... .

Quintic: I have to say that the whole thing of bikes in wilderness is totally foreign to me as an acceptable use, yet the people who think they should be allowed make strong arguments of law in favor. To me and, more importantly, as a matter of law, they're not allowed. They're a mechanical transport. The Wilderness Act would seem to ban them and, in fact, that's how the Act has been interpreted for 40 years. For National Parks, it's not even dependent on the Wilderness Act, it's a matter of specific law -- no wheeled vehicles, whether motorized or not.

The good news for me and, I like to think, Sierra hikers, is that there have been very, very few mountain bikers even attempting Sierra park trails. They're just too rugged. The couple of times I've come across bikers they've been walking their bikes (and got citations for their efforts). But places like Pt. Reyes, Muir Woods and, as you say, southern California, I guess it's a major problem. An advantage of poorly graded and rocky trails... .

Oh. Short story: my supervisor caught some bikers a few years ago. Gave them a citation and confiscated their bike seats -- sort of guaranteed they couldn't ride them out after she left. She had them pick up the seats at the Ranger Station.


Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:57 pm
Old Ranger and George, an enlightening exchange.

In terms of Point Reyes, the bike groups seems to have accepted the “mechanical transport” part of the Wilderness Act and stopped trying to get the backcountry trails opened to cyclists. Also, the number of cyclists I’ve encountered on the single track trails has declined quite a bit in the last few years. It used to be a major problem (one damn near ran over my son when he was 5 in 1989-the cyclist was lucky it was a downhill slope so he could get away), but now cyclists seem to stick to the fire roads. (Okay, now after writing this, I’ll probably run into one next week.)

Also, I’d like to clarify my earlier post. I misstated my position (one disadvantage of late night posts). I do not believe packers should be required to report their clients to the Park Service. However, WD, I don’t think the analogy of teachers turning in the parents of their students quite works. The clients are the equivalent of the students, not the parents. I do believe that packers should be held responsible for educating their clients. Packers whose clients are cited by rangers should be told about it and if their clients are repeatedly cited, that packer should lose their license. I won’t name names, but there are a couple of outfitters I’ve encountered who behave irresponsibly and even hostile and whose clients seem to behave similarly and break the rules (like building bonfires above the no fires elevation). Most other packers I’ve encountered over the last 35 years are people going about their business, are friendly and courteous, and their clients seem to behave similarly.

As for the government stock, an interesting quandary. I have to say I find helicopter resupply pretty annoying, but there’s something to be said about a few minutes of noise disturbance versus a long line of pack stock traveling in and out.

Finally, that quote of Randy’s is a beautiful piece of writing. From the bits quoted in "The Last Season," he was an eloquent writer. Has anyone thought about collecting his writings and editing them for book?

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 10:15 pm
by balzaccom
Wandering Daisy wrote:
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!

Yeah--I usually avoid Kennedy Meadows, just because of the incredible amount of manure on the first six miles of that trail...

And I also call the packers at Aspen Meadows when I am planning a trip. They not only share trail conditions with me, they also tell me where they have trips planned. And I go elsewhere!

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 20, 2012 8:55 am
by Wandering Daisy
Mountain bikes and hikers do not mix well because of safety issues that have nothing to do with wilderness. On old roads there is room for both, but on a narrow trail, mulit-use invites danger for both the biker and the hiker.

At Point Reyes, I like the rules that allow horses weekdays but not on weekends on some of the trails. This is just common sense management. Overall, I feel that Point Reyes is very well run. Years ago I and others complained that the group campsites were often empty and they responded by now allowing non-group use in a group site if it has not been reserved.

The Wilderness Act does seem to have some conflicting points- mitigating damage sometimes is best done with adding some permanant structures, such as designated campsites with pit or composting toilets. Or helicopter drops vs horses. My husband, who is a bow hunter, thinks that a lot of the bear problems in the NP could be solved by allowing just enough hunting to make the bears fear humans again. What is more in line with the wilderness act- permanant bear boxes or a little hunting which could also generate money for the parks.

Another issue that I see rearing its head in the future is about who gets permits. As globalization takes place, more and more foreign visitors come, and they spend lots more money then do we locals. They also tend to use the wilderness in large groups. Should there be a certain number of permits reserved for locals? Or US residents? Or is it the other way around. Do we locals "hog" the permits thus limit permits to a certain number per year? Hunting permits already do this. The state makes a lot more money on out-of-state permits.

What I see is that there are big-money lobbiests on both sides (Sierra Club, Forest Industry, RV industry, local communities, etc) but little representation for the average wilderness user - backpacker, fishermen, climbers. I feel we do not have a seat at the table. Sure, you can write a letter, but I doubt anyone even reads them.

It sure is a big balancing act. I do not envy the NP staff who has to take the brunt of everyone's complaints! As in politics, it seems the extremes at either end have taken over.

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:12 am
by oldranger

Did you just open a can of worms! yes who gets permits is a really tough issue. For example If I want to take a guided raft trip down the colorado there are several raft companies that I could go with this year. If I had the skills and equipment to do it myself it may take several years to win the lottery. I have been trying to get a spring permit to visit the Wave in northern Arizona for several years but have yet to win the lottery. I tried for a next day permit in person once and there were 40 people for the 10 visitor permits available in the day's lottery. Again I was unsuccessful.

I think guides and packers play an important role in making the wilderness available to people who do not have the skills or ability to visit the wilderness on their own--and their tax dollars help to support the wilderness, too. The minimum amount we sometimes must pay for a permit certainly doesn't cover the cost.

But if a guide or packer was subject to quotas in the same way as individuals they could not operate--They need to have some flexibility. A couple years ago I reviewed the management plan for stock use on the Inyo NF. As I recall each station had a quota for certain destinations for the entire season. I also recall that the pack stations were not particularly happy about that restriction but it seems reasonable to me in that it gives them the flexibility to get clients to the backcountry when they want to go.

I think a similar system must be in effect in Sierra NF as well. A couple of years ago I used a packstation to jumpstart a two week trip. I asked them if they could pack me into a lake. They said "how about another lake?" as they did not want to reduce the number of parties they could pack into the first lake. I was fine with the change. This pack station does not issue permits for its own trips. You have to get them through the FS but this is an area where TH quotas are seldom met.

I always thought it was a bit unfair that pack stations were not included in daily quotas in NPs. I now think that some kind of seasonal or even weekly quota may be the only way to continue that service.

I hope the controversy is not a mere generational thing where young people who can't conceive of needing a horse and mule to help them out and old people who have called it quits think there is no need for stock in the backcountry. There is is a point where use of stock can enhance your wilderness experience.

As I have said many times, my support of stock use is not giving license to stock users to do whatever they please or to allow every meadow to be grazed. I am for responsible, regulated stock use that shows respect for the environment and for other users.


Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:43 pm
by mokelumnekid
Mike- I am total agreement with you. My take on HSHA's suit was simply to bring that kind of balance out into the open instead of having it done on an ad hoc basis at each regional office. I do NOT want to see the availability of packers to go away, and there has to be some kind of business model that can accommodate them. And that also applies to horse travel by private individuals as well, tho every time I have to go through, or heaven forbid, camp near Hutchinson Meadow I am reminded about just how difficult it is to integrate the back country "lifestyle" that sometimes comes with packing with "leave no trace."

Sorry to hear about The Wave. My wife and I just showed up one day and got a permit on the spot. I have to say it was sensational. That was about 12 years ago. I understand it is very popular with Europeans. Hope you get to go there!

Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2012 2:08 pm
by TahoeSarah
Hi everyone… I’m a volunteer with the High Sierra Hikers Association (the group that filed the lawsuit that initiated this discussion). I read all of the above comments, and respect all of your opinions. However, there are a few misconceptions, so I would like to set the record straight. I’m writing to provide some of the key history, and the current situation, for those who want to know the facts.

This story begins in the 1960s, when recreation use exploded in High Sierra wilderness, due in part to a greater appreciation of the area by young people of that era, and also largely due to the advent of lightweight backpacking gear. In response to the escalating use (and accumulating impacts in many areas resulting from over-crowding and over-use), the agencies responded (beginning in the 1970s) by adopting limits on the number of people that could enter each day. By 1980, “trailhead quotas” were in place for most popular trailheads. But those quotas did not apply to commercial outfitters, such as mule packers. The quotas applied only to the “noncommercial” public (i.e., private wilderness trekkers, like you and me). The commercial outfits were allowed essentially unlimited access, and mule packers were even allowed to write their own wilderness permits for both themselves and their clients.

By 1980, some folks began to question why the trailhead quotas were not being applied equally to commercial vs. noncommercial visitors. In response, in February of 1981, with no public notice and no opportunity for public comment, a back-room deal was struck between the High Sierra mule packers’ association, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service, in which the agencies agreed that the quotas “will not reduce historical levels of business conducted by the outfitters.” Further, the agencies committed that “should future business of packers increase,” the agencies would “reassess the situation and make necessary adjustments.” And that is exactly what happened. (This back-room deal is memorialized in a 3/2/81 letter from the Regional Forester to the president of the packers’ association.)

After that deal was struck, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the agencies systematically reduced the trailhead quotas for you and me, while allowing ever-greater access for commercial outfits. Here’s just one example to give you a flavor of the pattern that has occurred throughout the High Sierra: In 1979, the quota for Piute Pass was 65 persons/day. That quota (which applied only to noncommercial visitors) was further reduced in 1982 to 40 persons/day, and a few years later it was again reduced to 32 persons/day. In 2001, the USFS adopted a new Wilderness Plan that reduced this quota once more, to 30 persons/day. In response to criticisms from non-commercial visitors that their access was being unfairly restricted while commercial outfits continued to enjoy unlimited access, the USFS adopted a so-called "quota" on commercial visitors of 15 persons/day for this trailhead -- but that is a phony limit. The plan is full of loopholes that allow the commercial outfits to exceed their "quota," essentially whenever they want. The result is that private hikers & stock users are routinely turned away by strict trailhead quotas on noncommercial visitors, but anyone who hires a commercial mule packer can go just about anywhere and anytime they want.

To make matters worse, wilderness rangers, natural resource specialists, and scientists from both agencies have for decades documented significant harm to High Sierra wilderness caused by mule packers (i.e., water pollution, spread of invasive weeds, erosion of wetlands & trails, etc.). But agency managers are generally afraid, unable, and/or unwilling to enforce even the existing rules against the commercial packers because the outfits have friends in high places, they have many political connections, and they hire high-priced legal help to fight any attempts to rein them in, or limit their abuses.

The High Sierra Hikers Association is a nonprofit group that represents thousands of hikers (including many stock users) from all over the United States who simply want fair treatment for all, and for the agencies to obey laws that mandate protection of our wilderness areas from harm. We want the agencies to control the ongoing exploitation of the High Sierra by commercial businesses, many of whom routinely violate wilderness regulations with impunity. Throughout the 1990s, the HSHA implored the agencies to adopt fair quota systems, to end the unfair favoritism of commercial outfits, and to enforce wilderness regulations against scofflaw packers. HSHA volunteers traveled long distances to discuss these issues with agency personnel and the mule packers themselves, but they responded mostly by attacking us (see:" onclick=";return false; ) rather than addressing the issues. In the end, the HSHA took legal action only as a last resort (see:" onclick=";return false;

The current situation is this: The only real limits on commercial mule packers in the High Sierra are due to legal action taken by the HSHA from 2000 to date. In HSHA's case against the Forest Service (see:" onclick=";return false; the court imposed (for the first time) hard limits on commercial outfits that may not be exceeded by bureaucratic loopholes. And in the most recent case against the National Park Service (see:" onclick=";return false; the court ruled in January of this year that the NPS has long violated the Wilderness Act by allowing essentially unlimited commercial packstock uses at Sequoia & Kings Canyon NPs. The court is currently considering how to remedy the situation at Sequoia-Kings. Stay tuned.

If you want the agencies to adopt fair trailhead access quotas for all, to reasonably limit commercial enterprises, to protect the High Sierra from those who would exploit it for private gain, and to pressure the agencies to reform their own outdated management practices, consider joining us !!

Happy trails.