Court Rules That Sequoia National Park Officials Violated Wilderness Act By Allowing Horse Trips

A federal judge has found that the National Park Service failed to do requisite studies into the need for stock use in high country wilderness areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. NPS file photo.

Horse travel in backcountry areas of national parks long has been viewed as not only somewhat romantic, a throwback to the Old West, but also as a necessity for hauling in not only visitors but vast amounts of gear that otherwise would be problematic to carry in.

But for those not on a horse, walking in their wake can be a challenge in terms of avoiding not only at-times voluminous amounts of manure, fresh and old, but also hoof-pocked trails and trampled areas. During wet seasons, dozens of hooves can pretty much trash trails.

A federal court in California recently took up the case of the use of stock animals in wilderness areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, and agreed with a hikers' organization that the National Park Service violated The Wilderness Act by failing to study the necessity of pack trips in the parks.

Somewhat interestingly, the ruling comes more than 40 years after the Park Service decided it would phase-out the use of stock animals in the high country of the two parks, but never fulfilled that decision.

The ruling (attached below) brings to fore the question of how damaging pack trips are to wilderness areas in the National Park System.

The case, which has been making its way through the legal system since 2009, was brought by the High Sierra Hikers Association. In its initial filing in September 2009 the group pointed out that when Sequoia officials adopted a master plan for the two parks in 1971, they specifically announced their intent to both phase out stock use from higher elevation areas of the two parks that are particularly sensitive to impacts and to eliminate grazing in all areas of the parks.

In reaching that decision, park officials at the time cited "the damage resulting from livestock foraging for food and resultant trampling of soils, possible pollution of water, and conflict with foot travelers..." the association's filing noted.

When the Park Service adopted a General Management Plan for the two parks in 1997, it did not reiterate the desire to phase out stock use, but instead decided to allow stock use "up to current levels."

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg held that Sequoia and Kings Canyon officials failed to conduct the requisite studies into the commercial need for pack trips in the two parks. Specifically, the judge noted in his ruling late last month, the Park Service must examine how commercial backcountry uses impact the landscape and "balance ... their potential consequences with the effects of preexisting levels of commercial activity."

"The Park Service has ignored and evaded the requirements of the Wilderness Act for decades," said Peter Browning, president of the High Sierra Hikers Association. "We hope that this court decision will prompt the Park Service to follow the law by limiting stock use and commercial services in our national parks to those that are truly necessary and not harmful to park resources."

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Comments

What a bunch of babies ! Talk about class warfare. No more wilderness!

How about a 5 year trial limiting the commercial use of stock/pack trips to the dry season? This would be a compromise based on the fact that the use of stock is less damaging in the dry seasons. It would allow people on both sides of the issue to enjoy the parks, and bring in revenue from the companies running the trips. If the 5 year trial shows it is still too damaging to use stock in the parks even in the dry season, then it could be banned. As for hikers having to watch their step around the organic fertilizer, well the wild life also poop and tinkle, and leave their messes around. Many of them also use the trails, as it is an easier way to get around.--Some of the trails were probably made by the wild animals. Don't forget to wear a hat while you are out there, and not just for sun protection. The birds poop and tinkle, too.

Now if they could just do this in Rocky Mountain NP! There, it's the lower elevation trails that are being pounded to death by hooves, eroded to dust and cobbles, and buried in manure.

I can testify to NPS management's "romantic" attachment to stock use in the parks, but they often emphasize the historic tradition and minimize the associated ecological damage and other costs. The Park Service continues to be much better at wilderness rhetoric than complying with the Wilderness Act.

Stock use has additional impacts that are not mentioned above, especially the introduction of exotic vegetation. Horses and mules increase rates of erosion on trail grades as well as causing widened, braded and muddy tread on the flats. The damage increases exponentially with the size of the pack string. Stock trails require a higher standard and more expensive maintenance, so the NPS essentially subsidizes this very small user group.

For decades at Olympic, volunteers from the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington were allowed to carry both weapons and chainsaws. The park bought several dead horses resulting their from attempts to 'improve' steep, primitive way trails unsuitable for stock use. Many staff at Mount Rainier blame visitor trampling for the trail damage in the Paradise area, but this is mostly a legacy of decades of NPS sponsored concession pack trips avoiding lingering snow banks.

Quite a few parks like Olympic maintain expensive government packstrings that only work for a minority of the year. The seasonal supply support of trail crews and backcountry ranger stations could be accomplished much more cheaply by contracting with local packers. On the other hand, wilderness helicopter use increased dramatically at Mount Rainier after their pack string was eliminated.

I find this story fascinating. Apparently, the NPS has no problem with horses trampling and destroying nature, but if cyclists want to have access to national park trails, somehow, trail erosion becomes an issue. Oh the hypocrisy!!
I think that the real issue is that inherently, nobody in governmental agencies want to rock the boat. It does not further one's career to change anything, so everybody keeps going along with whatever is the current order of the day, regardless of fairness or need to change. When one reads the details of the case above, it's pretty clear that the NPS dragged its feet and stalled the issue for as long as they could. My guess is that nobody at the NPS wanted to change anything because 1) that requires more work and 2) they were afraid of negative repercussions from rocking the boat.
We may have to sue the NPS to gain meaningful access for bikes as well.
Pardon my cynicism.

Zebulon - rightly or wrongly bikes are specifically excluded by the language of the Wilderness Act- horses aren't.

Anonymous. That's incorrect. The Act did not ban bikes, an administrative reinterpretation of the Act did. Furthermore, a good chunk of the NPS is not in wilderness.

Not all of us are healthy enough for hiking but still enjoy exploring Nature's beauty by horseback. This reminds me of librarians who want funding for big, beautiful libraries but don't want anyone to actually visit and enjoy them for fear they may have to accommodate them. The last time I went horseback riding I found two hikers chopping down a tree to feed their fire because they were ill-equipped for the weather. Needless to say, after my lecture and call to the park ranger, they probably despise equestrians but no one is trying to take away their rights and enjoyment of parks we all pay for.

Zebulon:

Section 4 c of the act states:
c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to
existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no
permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and,
except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration
of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in
emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area),
there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized
equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of
mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such
area.

"no other form of mechanical transport" A bicycle is a form of mechanical transport. So in Wilderness areas, they are banned by Congressional Act - not NPS policy (or interpretation). My preference? - I'd rather have bikes than horses but then, we should be able to find room for both.

"But for those not on a horse, walking in their wake can be a challenge in terms of avoiding not only at-times voluminous amounts of manure, fresh and old, but also hoof-pocked trails and trampled areas." I see how this irration can be frustrating for equestrians when many of trails that hikers like to use were orginally cut by stock. Just doesn't seem fair.

The dark side of organized "hiking clubs". Fresh horse poop REALLY screws up their Wilderness Experience ? Do the club members picture themselves as John Muir clones ?What self-induced coma do they put themselves in to endure the outrage when they go take their own dumps in the woods ? I've hiked all over the Sierra, and the trails with pack stock travel are in the minority. True, they share many of the more popular trails, but so what ? You step aside when they're coming through, you watch your step around the droppings ; these encounters last only seconds, I do not see the big problem. Its a perfectly natural use of the backcountry, and I have never seen a meadow terminally torn up by pack stock hooves or overgrazing. The whiners need to vary their hiking destinations a little bit and get a grip.

Hi, everyone,

Good discussion.

I read the decision, and I'm a lawyer, so I think I provide some perspective. It isn't a model of judicial brilliance. Leaving aside that the court seems not to know the difference between the words forgo and forego, the opinion falls into abunch of acronym-laden abstractions and loses track of the substance of the High Sierra Hikers Association complaint (i.e., HSHA's initial filing presenting its legal claims). The complaint talks about commercial packstock outfitting trips, but reading the opinion, which has only a cursory reference to horses and mules and thereafter talks about livestock and grazing, you start to wonder if the lawsuit is about cattle.

The most significant part of the decision is that it did not decide on a remedy. It left that for more wrangling in court. (See opn., p. 10, fn. 5, & p. 31.) The HSHA might win a significant victory at that stage. The court could decide to ban horses and packstock. Or it could ratify the status quo with some nibbling at the edges that would not satisfy HSHA.

For people who have time, I recommend reading pages 7-17 of the HSHA complaint to get a better sense of what HSHA is complaining about and what it wants done to remedy
the situation:

http://www.highsierrahikers.org/seki09.pdf

In a later post, I'll comment on some of the comments already made, especially about bicycles and Wilderness. And I'll post some links about horse and packstock impacts in Wilderness. The decision is about National Park Service Wilderness, but the same considerations apply to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Wilderness as well.

Ranger Andy,
Based on your arguments, should we conclude that you're okay with bikes? They don't defecate, they're only around for a few seconds and they do way less damage to the trails than the horses do.
Anonymous,

Your citations are correct, but bicycles were allowed in Wilderness until 1984 (or 1986, can't remember) until the Federal agency reinterpreted mechanical form of transport to include bicycles. Such a reinterpretation was contrary to the intent of those who wrote the Act. Furthermore, there are quite a few mechanical apparatus currently allowed in wilderness that would fall into that overly broad interpretation of the Act, but are not (e.g. paddle kayak). Now, no amount of rational reasoning—except a well financed lawsuit—will change anything (see how the NPS dragged its feet on the issue at hand).

This is MADNESS, and the Judge should be required to "hike" through there! Wanna-be "outdoors" sheep from the city are the problem, and so are the fed's in making it a "wilderness" when all they have to do is protect it from Development. Horseback is sometimes the only why through ... or Land Rover! Best thing is the city sheep should stay out of these places - it's always they who we have to rescue! They have no idea of the hardship of surviving out there.
MG

Muir used a horse in the wilderness sometimes. The JMT started out as a stock trail from YV to KC. There are many people who can enjoy the wilderness, because stock can help get them there and away. And actually a lot of avid hikers still hire stock to meet them on the trail for resupply. So hikers could also be disapointed by a complete exclusion of stock.

I think the Wilderness Act is a good idea. At the same time, the parks and wilderness areas need friends too. Putting trailhead quotas on stock, like trailhead quotas on hikers makes sense. And some trails are restricted from stock use anyway. If some particularly sensitive areas could benefit from further protection, it might be worth moving sensibly in that direction.

For my own experience, the annoyances are relatively minor. When I'm hiking, I usually enjoy meeting the animals and their people on those trails that stock travel. The worst stock-related experience I've had was actually fairly humorous. With a high wind whipping over Kearsarge Pass, I got hit by a light rain of what turned out to be bits of dried horse stuff that was blowing off the switchback just above me.

Anonymous of 9:49 a.m. and ecbuck of 11:25 a.m.:

You're right that the Wilderness Act forbids "mechanical transport" in NPS, FS, and BLM Wilderness. But Anonymous is incorrect that the Act specifically excludes bicycles. They're not mentioned. Only agency interpretations of the Act have decided to exclude mountain bikers.

It does seem logical at first glance that the Act's no-mechanical-transport clause must exclude bikes. No one denies that a bicycle is a form of mechanical transport, after all. However, the exclusion is broad and inevitably ambiguous. If taken to its logical extreme, then boats with oarlocks, skis with bindings, climbing equipment with carabiners and pullies, and even fishing reels must be excluded. Obviously Congress didn't intend to reduce people to making use of wildlands the way Old Testament figures were forced to do. Even John Muir, Bob Marshall, and Howard Zahniser must have used modest forms of mechanical transport.

So the question is not whether a bike is mechanical transport, but what kind of mechanical transport devices Congress meant to ban. The answer is contained in this law review article. It explains that Congress did not mean to exclude human-powered transport:

http://www.imba.com/sites/default/files/Penn%20State%20Law%20Review%20TS.pdf

And in fact, the very first Forest Service regulation, in 1966, understood Congress's intent and correctly ruled that "mechanical transport" meant a means of travel powered by a nonliving power source. That rule is still on the books, but the Forest Service prefers its later no-bicycles rule, which misunderstands the Wilderness Act. The Forest Service enacted version of that rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the most minimal public input.

It was a mistake that has had long-lasting consequences, including dogged opposition to any Wilderness expansions that will force cyclists off treasured and long-used trails. The Wilderness organizations would be smart to oppose the rule, but they're mired in a purist vision and have enough fanatics in their membership that they'd rather have less Wilderness than Wilderness with the very occasional bicycle (a sighting that would probably about as frequent as sighting a bear, if that frequent).

Western outdoors writer Bill Schneider made these points well: "As those familiar with the Wilderness debate know, the word 'bicycle' is not in the Wilderness Act of 1964, nor does it disallow mountain biking. In fact, the first regulations the FS wrote in the late 1960s
didn’t prohibit mountain biking, but then later, in the early 1980s, when mountain biking started becoming popular, the FS specifically revised the regulations to ban bicycles in Wilderness. So, for around fifteen years after the Wilderness Act became the law of the land, bicycles were actually allowed in Wilderness—until the FS, supported by wilderness and hiking groups, not Congress, and before the IMBA-fueled bicycle lobby started rolling, made an administrative decision to disallow bicycling.

"The easiest way to undo this overstepping of the administrative rule-making process would be for the FS, with the support by wilderness and hiking groups, not Congress, to revise the regulations again to allow bicycles. Sadly, most wildernuts consider this heresy."

Source: http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/hikers_wilderness_groups_should_re_think_mountain_biking/C41/L41/

See also Scott Sandberry's excellent article on bicycles and the Wilderness advocates' Pyrrhic victory in keeping them out. It ran in the Yakima (Wash.) Herald six months ago:

http://sportsyakima.com/2011/08/sandsberry-mountain-bikers-belong-in-the-wilderness/

All of the foregoing applies just as well to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, the subjects of Kurt's article, and national park units generally. Some national parks are almost 100% formal Wilderness once you get past the parking lots and roads.

So, Zebulon and imtnbke, you don't think bikes are "mechanical transport" ? "Bicycles weren't mentioned by name because they come under the heading of "mechanical transport." Cars weren't mentioned specifically, motor bikes weren't mentioned specifically, chain saws weren't mentioned specifically, because like bicycles, they were covered by the general catogories, i.e. "motorized vehicles", or "motorized equipment."
Oh - and I have never seen a fishing reel transport anything.
BTW - I do believe that bicycles should be allowed. Its been one of the major stumbling blocks for those pushing Hidden Gems. But, I recognize it would take an act of Congress to accomplish that. Seems that if bicycles weren't intended to be excluded, Congress would have addressed it long ago.

ecbuck: looks like your threads crossed with imtnbike, who answered your question thoroughly.
Personnally, I find it pretty humorous to see horses feeling threatened to be limited/kicked out of wilderness. Welcome to our world. :) Next thing you know, we'll hear the wilderness purists say how equestrians are not pushed out of wilderness, only their horses are...

Ecbuck, please read what I've written before you respond.

I said, "No one denies that a bicycle is a form of mechanical transport, after all."

As for fishing reels, you've never seen a fishing reel transport a fish? The point is that the Wilderness Act of 1964 does not merely forbid mechanical transport of humans. It forbids the mechanical transport of anything. Read broadly enough, it would be illegal to use a pulley system to hang a food bag out of the reach of bears. Please read the links in my post. All of these issues have been thoroughly explored.

I'm glad that you favor bicycles in Wilderness, however.

I did a season of trail maintenance in the Trinity Alps and I do agree somewhat with the assessment that stock animals cause trail damage. Your big enemies for erosion on a trail are water (rain and snow), stock animals and humans (in that order). Horses and mules are somewhat worse than humans in the fact that they're much heavier and can pound holes in softer soil. Also, on steep slopes they have an unfortunate predilection to walk near the outer edge of the trail where the dirt is softer. You'll often see big holes in the side of the trail where a horse took a step and knocked the berm down the slope.

All that being said, it would be hypocritical for me to call for the banning of stock animals since without them it would have been impossible to get our food and supplies deep into the wilderness for our trail camps. I have a huge respect for the Backcountry Horsemen who volunteered to pack in loads of supplies at the risk of their own health and animals.

A balanced approach may be best, in which we assess the impact of stock travel on specific routes and provide appropriate permitting to limit total traffic across sensitive areas.

I find it interesting that we are only going to ban horses in Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks. The trails there aren't used by pack teams and horses nearly as much as I have seen in Yosemite. What about the mule trail rides at the Grand Canyon? Don't just pick on the private business in just these two parks if you are not willing to make them all go away in all of the national parks. This sounds too much like a personal interest, not in my back yard, issue to me.

"I said, "No one denies that a bicycle is a form of mechanical transport, after all."
QED - then they are covered by the Act.
An many, including myself (and the NPS) would deny that a fishing reel or a pulley for a bear bag are "mechanical transport".

Anonymous, I think that Imtnbike explained thoroughly why the ban on bicycles is non sensical. A pedal driven kayak is clearly mechanical and not banned. Most importantly, and clearly the point you gladly ignore, is that the original intent was to ban non human powered forms of mechanical transport. All bicycles opponents ignore that fact because it basically takes apart the whole anti bicycle argument. It all comes down to historical users not wanting to share. That being said, it's rather silly, because the inane ban on bicycles is the single biggest driver that slows down the expansion of wilderness in this country. Apparently, wilderness purists would rather have less wilderness but all to themselves than more and sharing it. Frankly, this is nothing to be proud of.
In the meantime, it'll be fun to see equestrians starting to get limited access to NPS. Maybe they'll form alliances with cyclists now!

Back to horses and packstock . . . .

The Wilderness Watch lobbying group doesn't like commercial packstock trips and has these two reports on its website. They assert that horses and mules have made a mess of the Pasayten Wilderness in northern Washington:

http://wildernesswatch.org/pdf/1999_State_of_the_Pasayten_Report.pdf

http://wildernesswatch.org/pdf/Violations_of_Pasayten_Wilderness.pdf

I've never been there. In any event, one of these reports is 13 years old. Does anyone have an opinion about their accuracy, or whether the same is true in various National Parks and Forest Service areas that see lots of packstock use?

I do remember that the initial miles of hiking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness (the Wallowa mountains in remote northeastern Oregon) were through powder sometimes inches deep because of all the horses churning up the trailbeds. Not very pleasant in the summer heat.

A quick reply to Anonymous of 7:01 this morning. I understand your opinion, but if the bicycle ban is ever challenged in court, that won't suffice. The arguments get a lot more subtle, and reasonably so if the law is to have any workability.

Zebulon is correct. Not only is the bicycle ban inconsistent with other permitted mechanical uses in Wilderness, but the ban hurts Wilderness advocates probably more than anyone else.

Thus does purity defeat pragmatism, and the perfect become the enemy of the good. Unless, of course, you favor no further Wilderness expansion. In that case, the Wilderness bicycle ban is one of your best allies and you should work to keep it in place.

It's kind of like U.S. policy toward Cuba. If you favor the longest possible continuation of the Castro brothers' regime, then by all means you should continue to support U.S. isolation of Cuba. Now, the purist exiles in Miami don't realize this, but it's still a fact. Or maybe they do realize it, but they get more enjoyment out of the current situation than they would if Cuba lost its status as a giant island prison and the Miami exiles then became less important (or couldn't cling to their self-importance). Hard to know.

Anonymous in turn is correct to this extent: "the NPS would deny that a fishing reel or a pulley for a bear bag are 'mechanical transport.' " The same would be true of the Forest Service, I have no doubt. As Zebulon pointed out above, once a bureaucracy has entrenched rules, it won't reconsider them easily, because it creates problems. In fact, one can hardly fault the NPS and FS for clinging to the no-bikes rule even if it runs counter to the intent of the Wilderness Act. If they got rid of it, they'd be closer to the correct law, but then they'd have lawsuits from the Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, the Sierra Club, the High Sierra Hikers Association, and all sorts of groups that might as well call themselves collectively Stewards for a More Sustainable America. No bureaucracy wants the hassle.

So the bicycle ban is going to remain in place unless someone challenges it in court.

The Grand Canyon isn't a designated wilderness. That's the issue here, not that King Canyon and Sequoia are national parks.
Commercial services are allowed in wilderness areas only to the extent necessary, to realize the wilderness or recreational purpose of the area.

Mike, I agree. The issue is Wilderness, not National Park status. Many people don't know that the two categories have a degree of overlap (i.e., much NPS land is also Wilderness), but that being a National Park doesn't mean one is operating a Wilderness as well. A good example is Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas (if I'm remembering the name correctly). No wilderness there, and no capital-W Wilderness there either.

"The ban hurts wilderness advocates probably more than anyone else"???
I'd say the biggest impediment to more wilderness designations are the Western congressional delegations.

And if "wilderness purists" are behind the ban on bikes and pushback against horses, does that mean those who want bike and horse access in wilderness areas want to defile official wilderness? (rhetorical question).

HSHA leaves leaflets on cars at trail heads to solicit funds and they come right out and say "Tired of stepping on horse crap?" It's obviousy about not wanting to share the trails with others. Some say 'follow the money' to get to the root of a problem, I say 'follow the self-interest.' Has anyone compared the impact of one horse to 500 hikers, because that's about the ratio.

Well Mike, in response to the Canyon not being in Wilderness designation, the opportunity to be an interactive part of the 105 year old history of Grand Canyon Mule Rides by all people including the handicapped, others with challenges besides everyone else young and old has been reduced by 75% to just 10 people day. Only the very lucky and happen to be in modern lingo, a 1%er need apply. For very dubious reasons especially when public benefit (and comments) are considered. The Canyon Ride to Phantom has been described as the best of it's kind in the World by many that have been everywhere and seemingly done everything while it has been reduced to token status. The culture is going in the wrong direction obviously and these opportunities for Americans and International visitors to experience things that are so foundationally good is something to be considered now as well as it was in the days of Mather and Albright.

Regarding bikes, I agree with another climber friend, who asserts that an essential aspect of "Wilderness" is pace, meaning on foot or hoof. Now I'm sure that concept can be attacked just as easily as defense of horse poop, but there are indeed safety issues involved. There are many blind curves with steep slopes waiting to catapult a biker/hiker collision or near miss into a much worse situation everywhere up there. I've seen kayaks being humped up out of the desert over Shepherd pass, no less, for an exploration of the
Kern river headwaters. That kind of mecha doesn't bother anyone or anything but the fishes, and they'll get over it. The trails we hike were built by the CCC , or date back to the turn of the century, or earlier, and were designed with humans and animals in mind, not bikes. Mtn bikers are fellow outdoorsmen, and I regard their passion with approval ;
just don't get an attitude about "the definition of Wilderness". Invest in a backpack, leave the wheels at home, and experience the luxurious pace of the walker.

Other than walking through a corral or chicken coop, the only time I've ever stepped in horse crap, moose crap, dog crap, buffalo crap, or any other end product was when I didn't look where I was walking.

Just sayin'.

I like it Rick B. Going one step further. When the trails are iced over and hikers are falling like flies, that green stuff and the etching of the ice those winter shoes provide, following the green is the safest path :). "Can't we just get along," lol?

Rick, for what it's worth, while in the Bechler area of Yellowstone last fall, a buddy and I had the unpleasant fate of hiking not far behind a ranger on his steed with one in tow with his gear. The trail itself was probably 6-8 inches deep in places, with thick brush and rocks on the sides. Sure, careful stepping helped avoid most of the manure, but this went on for a few miles. It's really amazing how much forage they process!

Also, we came across a few wet areas and stream banks where horses had not only trampled the immediate area in and around the trail, but also had cut away a stream bank by about 4 feet perpendicular to the streambed where they came out after fording the stream.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but it is an issue in some areas.

Ranger Andy,
Let me summarize your argument. It starts with: "the Wilderness Act bans bicycles". Then, cyclists explain how that is incorrect. Then, you move on to "well, it's dangerous interaction (about you show me statistics to back your assertion), trails were not designed with cyclists in mind (true, but usually not an issue) and frankly, get off your bike and walk like the rest of us".
I've seen that argument repeated over and over, and it's really funny. It just goes to prove my initial assertion that historical users are simply not interested in sharing wilderness. Furthermore, it has become some kind of value issue where hikers feel that they somehow know how to enjoy the outdoors more truthfully than cyclists. Clearly, it's just a matter of personal opinion and should have no bearing on whether cyclists should be allowed or not in wilderness.
On a personal note, hiking bores me to death, and horses don't interest me (I rode in the Sierras, and I don't like the pace nor the fact that I'm so high off the ground), but I respect the fact that others might enjoy it. Ultimately, that's the real difference between Ranger Andy and I.
I foresee that somebody will challenge the interpretation of the Act in court, and most likely will win. I just don't know how much longer we'll have to suffer the inequity. In the meantime, it looks like equestrians will also feel the pain of being kicked out of the outdoors.

Ranger Andy,

A letter in today's New York Times captures your view perfectly:

"While both sides of this debate have a moral foundation upon which to
stand, only one side tries to insist that the other live according to
its morals."

That's your side, of course, as you've perfectly demonstrated in your post.

Somewhere a mining company executive is hoping your view continues to prevail. The less Wilderness, the better, as far as he/she is concerned.

Kurt,

I don't understand the rhetorical question that's Part II of your 10:45 a.m. post, but I can address the first part. I'll quote it:

" 'The ban hurts wilderness advocates probably more than anyone else'??? I'd say the biggest impediment to more wilderness designations are the Western congressional delegations."

You may be right that the Western congressional delegation is the greatest impediment to Wilderness expansion. However, I am sure that I'm right that the bicycle ban does more to negatively impact Wilderness advocacy than to negatively impact anything or anyone else. Both statements can be correct, with no logical conflict.

Ecbuck buttressed my point in a post above: "BTW - I do believe that bicycles should be allowed. Its been one of the major stumbling blocks for those pushing Hidden Gems."

imtnbke, it was rhetorical because I didn't want to accuse bikers or equestrians of being unpure;-)

But I'm curious how you reach your conclusion that the bicycle ban is such an impediment to wilderness designation? What do you base that statement on? Surveys show there are millions more Americans involved in trail running, jogging, and hiking than in mountain biking.

Considering that, how powerful is the biking lobby? If wilderness were opened to bikes, would mountain bikers be able to push wilderness designation legislation through Congress?

The Wilderness Act (Section 4(c)) prohibits "mechanical transport", of which bikes qualify. Exceptions are limited to the minimum requirements for the administration of area for the purpose of wilderness. Thats the language of the law not an "administrative reinterpretation".

John,
Please see the rebuttal above.
More here: http://www.imba.com/resources/land-protection/legal-analysis
Knowledge is power. :)

Kurt - its not that the "biking lobby" could push through legislation but if bikes were allowed - they wouldn't be in vocal opposition. Creating wilderness will likely have limited near term impact on hikers thus, they don't tend to get worked up about an area being declared wilderness. On the other hand bikers typically have been using the pre-wilderness designated area in the past. A wilderness designation has a far greater and immediate impact on them. Thus they (bikers) tend to be vocal opponents to Wilderness designation. The only ones more strident are the Snowmobilers and ATVers. They should have space to "play" but I sure don't want it to be in the space I am using or in a space that truly qualifies as wilderness.

Well, in the parks that's pretty much a non-starter as, to the best of my knowledge, areas eyed for wilderness designation already are managed as de facto wilderness, so mountain biking would be off-limits as it is.

To be completely accurate with cycling restrictions at GCNP, mountain bikes are allowed as long as you are carrying them:). The Arizona Trail crosses the Canyon on the North and South Kaibab Trails and in the last couple years we've seen a few doing the Arizona Trail through the Park carrying their bikes the 22 miles that they aren't allowed to ride.

Well, to be COMPLETELY accurate, back in March 2007 two guys who were riding their mountain bikes from Alaska to South America did indeed ride the trail through the canyon. They were busted after recounting the ride on their website.

Here's part of what we wrote about them four years ago:


When rangers saw the pictures on the trio's website, Riding the Spine, they tracked them down to Tuscon and busted them. According to a story posted on KVOA TV's web site, the three pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to illegally bike and camp inside the Grand Canyon, camping inside the Grand Canyon without a backcountry permit, and illegally bicycling on the trails below the rim. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark E. Aspey sentenced them to 48 hours in jail, a
$500 penalty to be paid to a search and rescue group, and five years
probation. They are banned from national parks during their probation.


As part of their sentence, the trio posted a story on their web site about bicycle rules in the Grand Canyon.

Zebulon - if your citation were correct in his analysis, Congress wouldn't have let the interpretation be otherwise for over 45 years. I think the fact that they haven't moved to overturn the "ban" suggests that a ban on bikes is what they wanted.
Kurt - perhaps in the NPS areas (please identify) but there are plenty of areas outside the parks where bikers are strong opponents to wilderness designation. Here in CO is a prime example.

Anonymous, Glacier and Yellowstone are two parks that manage most if not all of their backcountry as de facto wilderness.

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2011/11/why-delay-designating-official-wilderness-national-parks9079

And here's regulatory language from Grand Teton:

• Bicycles are NOT allowed on trails or in backcountry areas.

Anonymous, you have way too high of an opinion of Congress. In my more cynical view of things, people (including politicians and most certainly federal agency employees) follow the path of least resistance. Therefore, it's much easier to let the ban stay (regardless of fairness or original intent) than to incur the wrath of the wildernuts by restoring the original intent of the Act. Therefore, the situation persists and will do so until somebody decides to sue. The Sierra Club and other similar movements see bicycles as anathema to wilderness. There is no way to argue rationally, since it's rooted in some neo religious feelings toward nature and therefore not limited by such mundane things as fairness, facts or reason. :)
Also, there are quite a few people in Congress who have no idea that wilderness is off limit to bicycles. They weren't around when the original legislation was enacted.
The interesting long term trend is that the Sierra Club is greying and the young (at least those that are not sitting on the couch playing video games) are more likely to pick mountain biking over hiking.

Kurt: To be COMPLETELY accurate :) what you posted is a chronicle of rule breaking activity, not to be confused with what is allowed at GCNP :). If only they had carried their bikes, lol. I wonder if they posted the Canyon crossing chapter and how the passing of the Mules on the trail went.
There isn't one significant Canyon character in the history of laws at the Grand Canyon that did not break the rules at some juncture, some routinely. Most all are held in high esteem having proceeded past the level of mediocrity that many hold as the limit of achievement. I say that with ultimate respect for the Canyon and all due respect for those entrusted with it. Many Canyon treasures including those of the human and equine variety, past and present. You have a great site here, Kurt.

Kurt, I think Ecbuck has answered your question about the political effect of mountain bikers' opposition to new Wilderness designations that would lock us out where we've always ridden. I pretty much agree with what Ecbuck said.

Zebulon is correct about Congress, by the way. Why should a member of Congress from Gary, Ind., or south Los Angeles have any interest in Wilderness management?

Among this group, the topic is of interest, but compared to unemployment, health care, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, China, the euro, and the Keystone pipeline, bicycles in Wilderness isn't even a microissue. It's a nanoissue. And even that comparison leaves out what preoccupies most members of Congress during their waking hours, namely raising money for reelection.

Also, in 1980 Congress said that bicycling was OK for the Rattlesnake Wilderness in Montana. This is the one and only time Congress has ever passed a law regarding bicycles in Wilderness—and it said yes! It's covered in the law review article that's been linked to above. However, the Forest Service is unwilling to allow it there notwithstanding the 1980 law. (It seems to think that the law isn't clear enough, but if you read the law's text, it seems pretty clear.)