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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 Wandering Daisy » Mon Feb 20, 2012 8:55 am

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.



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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:12 am

WD

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.

Mike
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby mokelumnekid » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:43 pm

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!
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby TahoeSarah » Wed Mar 07, 2012 2:08 pm

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: http://www.highsierrahikers.org/essay_clear.html ) rather than addressing the issues. In the end, the HSHA took legal action only as a last resort (see: http://www.highsierrahikers.org/essay_tosue.html

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: http://www.highsierrahikers.org/NewsWinter0708.pdf 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: http://www.highsierrahikers.org/NewsAutumn09.pdf 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.
Last edited by TahoeSarah on Mon Apr 16, 2012 10:59 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby rlown » Wed Mar 07, 2012 3:22 pm

as i get older, i'm coming to love the mule trek. I haven't been on one yet, except in 94 in the Yose Valley up to the falls. I've also followed a few up the the Vogelsang HSC. That is not pleasant.

Sorry, not joining. Most of the packers I've met are really great, and if you look at the trail work, they're built for mules.. go figure. humans don't need cobblestone approaches..
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Bad Man From Bodie » Thu Mar 08, 2012 12:28 pm

Not joining either! I support the back country horseman’s association and will fight for my heritage and traditional use of stock in the high country. It’s a heritage that was passed to me and one that I will pass to my children regardless of groups like the HSHA. My kids will know how to pack in the high country.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Thu Mar 08, 2012 12:50 pm

Well I'm not joining nor am I joining HSHA (I thought it was HSSA). When a stock ranger for NPS the worst stock user in my area was the President of the local branch. Always left a mess, grazed his stock when it was not legal, cut trenches in a meadow to make sure his tent stayed dry, tied his stock to trees leaving huge donuts dug out around them. Didn't get support from the Chief Ranger to deal with the problem. Next year I decided not to return to the park (but not because of this.) Actually I wouldn't join any organization that would have me! Of course I have to questions Eric's judgement in letting me post, too!

Cheers
Mike

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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby mokelumnekid » Thu Mar 08, 2012 3:03 pm

Bad Man- no one here is talkng about a ban on these activities. Oldranger the "president of the local branch of the HSHA" being an abusive stock user somehow doesn't ring true to me. Can you provide more details?
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Bad Man From Bodie » Thu Mar 08, 2012 4:29 pm

Hey Moke, hope youve been finding some good water for paddling this winter!

I know no one is proposing an all out ban on stock - As you know, Im just a bit sensitive to these issues. Im more concerned about additional regulations that can’t be enforced and the ripple effect these regulations have on all user groups and resources, let alone the tax payer dollars wasted on fighting all these frivolous law suits from NGO groups such as the High Sierra Hikers Association (Sheesh).. I really take offence and red flags go up when someone makes a statement like “We want the agencies to end the ongoing exploitation of the High Sierra by commercial businesses, many of whom routinely violate wilderness regulations with impunity.” That’s quite a statement considering the amount of commerce generated through tourism in the Sierra, of which outfitting is absolutely a part of. That statement pretty much sums up what the agenda is and I don’t subscribe to that train of thought. I still think people have the right to make a living in a tourist based economy. Lets not get in a philosophical debate over exploitation of natural resources for profit (its all tit for tat). What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander i.e. what’s good for one user group isn’t good for the other and that’s the rub. It has nothing to do with the environment, people just don’t want to share the trail with horse poop. Can you imagine what it would have been like to live in the Sierra 100 years ago. People would freak out if they knew!
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby mokelumnekid » Thu Mar 08, 2012 10:16 pm

Bad Man- I hear you. I totally support packer access. One vexing thing about all this that everybody on all sides of these issues I've met have been GOOD people, hard working who all care about the mountains. And I especially respect that is part of our heritage. I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn't have found a career in geology if my grandparents hadn't bought an old range cabin in Hermit Valley back in the 1940's, that allowed me access to the natural world through a personal connection. I wish everybody could walk in the others boots for a week.

Thanks for asking about the paddling- I've had many good days this Winter on the water (I got the crap beat out of me last Summer on a river here in Washington that required surgery, but I'm back). This summer going to run the Rogue again, but there probably won't be enough water for any action in Calif. so we'll packback around Glacier Divide instead, after a few days around Ebbetts pass. Cheers!
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Mok Kid in center, Skykomish River, Washington, Feb. 2012
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:10 pm

To TahoeSarah:
Thanks for weighing in with the facts. Unfortunately, there are some that are not interested in the truth. They have their own self-interest agenda in keeping the present situation as is.

To Others:
Well, heres the fact: NO ONE IS TRYING TO TAKE AWAY YOUR HORSEY.
:soapbox:
As an avid backpacker, I have been quota'd out more times than I can remember...Piute Pass was one of them. (Try getting a walkin permit around a holiday weekend...you better have multiple backup plans and be flexible.)
Its amazing that in 1979 the quota for Piute Pass was 65 persons/day and today its 30. Thats a 54% decrease in available spots. But yet commercial packers have not had a similar reduction. Where is the fairness, the level playing field...this is an example of a "special interest party" getting preferential treatment.

As a proud member of the Sierra Club and other enviro groups, I will now be sending my check for $10 to join the High Sierra Hikers Assoc to protect the Sierra wilderness for my children AND yours. This issue has been educational...and by researching and spending some time reading the facts, I feel more informed on this subject. It appears others have not, and no doubt will continue to live in ignorance, and spread mis-information and rhetoric. :moon:
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby mokelumnekid » Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:20 pm

Please t-hugger, you don't have to go there. Genuine respect is the pixie dust that makes it possible for people to go along and get along. You posted a provocative, informative and important thread that got a lot of discussion- people have different views that reflect the diversity of their back grounds. You did a good job of getting the ball rolling, please don't be surprised that folks will have different views. :)
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