House Democrats Urge GOP Leadership To Solve Horse-Packing Stalemate At Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks

Republican leadership in the House of Representatives could resolve the horse-packing stalemate at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks through a legislative initiative, according to California Democrats.

In a letter to Rep. Doc Hastings, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, the five Democrats propose that he support legislation that would give the Park Service authority to issue permits for commercial horse pack trips in designated wilderness in the parks.

The current ban on commercial pack trips was spurred by the High Sierra Hikers Association, which filed a lawsuit to both get the National Park Service to meet the provisions of The Wilderness Act and to protect the sensitive environmental landscape of wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The association is not trying to ban outright horse trips into the high country of the two parks, but rather seeks what it believes is a more manageable level.

Armed with a ruling that the Park Service violated The Wilderness Act in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks with the way it managed horse pack trips, the hikers association wants U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg to order the agency to rein-in the pack trips.

In a motion filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the hikers association asked Judge Seeborg during a May 23 hearing to order the Park Service to reduce by 20 percent from 2007 levels the number of pack trips allowed into the parks' wilderness areas, and prohibit grazing of stock in wilderness meadows above 9,700 feet.

Uncertainty over the matter has led Sequoia officials to temporarily ban the issuance of permits to commercial horse packers.

The Obama administration in recent weeks has taken some criticism from some members of Congress, who say the administration has the authority to resolve the impasse. But in their letter to Rep. Hastings, the California Democrats say that's not so.

The Interior Department has no authority to issue permits until a final court ruling is made, the congressmen note in their letter, which was made public Tuesday. With the remedy hearing for this case not scheduled until May, any final ruling would be likely be too late for summer visitors to make plans, disappointing visitors and furthering the economic harm to the area, they added.

“This is about whether Congress is going to act to allow summer trips into the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks,” Rep. George Miller said. “We can complain about the ruling, or we can do something to resolve a situation that’s already affecting families and businesses and harming the regional economy. I’m urging my Republican colleagues to take action. If the committee leadership introduces a clean, simple bill to allow access this year at historical levels, we will support that bill. We’ve got to work together to keep access to our national parks open and keep small businesses operating.”

Rep. Jim Costa added that, “Many of us, along with our families and friends, have enjoyed the incredible sites that only be found in the High Sierra Nevadas in the summer. For many the only way to experience this is through the use of pack animals. Congress should act on a clean, bipartisan bill. If we can’t agree on this, what can we agree on?”

The Democratic members noted that the situation is already causing economic harm to outfitters, packers, guides, and other permit holders who rely on the income that park visitors bring to the area. Without congressional action, visitors and families from across California — and the nation — may be denied access to the high country wilderness in the Sierras, one of the premier experiences the National Park system has to offer, they contend.

The letter recommends that Chairman Hastings and his colleagues introduce legislation allowing the small businesses who manage the pack and saddle stock to continue to operate this season. The court’s ruling did not determine that the horses and mules had caused any harm to the park, only that the National Park Service had not conducted a legally required study. The legislation suggested in the letter would allow the Park Service to continue issuing permits for the next year while the agency finalizes the necessary studies, the congressmen said.

“Americans of all political stripes derive great enjoyment from exploring the great outdoors,” said Rep. John Garamendi, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee. “Rather than sit on our hands, our Committee should work together with the National Park Service to ensure that recreationalists and small businesses can continue to reap the benefits of these natural wonders.”

“The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have served as a vacation destination for generations of families,” added Rep. Sam Farr. “Closing the gates of these parks to pack and saddle animals will not only interrupt countless family vacations this spring, but it will deliver a heavy blow to the local economies that depend on tourism dollars. I want to urge my Republican colleagues to act swiftly and responsibly in support of a clean bill that reopens the doors to visitors and delivers relief for local businesses.”

Said Rep. Mike Thompson, "Congress needs to act so that families and small businesses can plan for the summer vacation months. Every day we wait is a day too long. Our outfitters, packers and guides face economic uncertainty. And trips American families were hoping to take to these parks are threatened. The House Natural Resources Committee needs to introduce, and Congress needs to pass clean legislation that ensures permits can be issued for pack and saddle animals at these parks. This will allow families to move forward with their summer vacation plans and small businesses to continue to operate.”

In their letter the Democrats wrote that:

[The] “order is already causing economic harm to outfitters, packers, guides, and other permit holders, and it has the potential to significantly affect Americans’ enjoyment of the parks’ wilderness areas this year.”

“[T]his situation cannot be fixed without congressional action, and it is a disservice to businesses and visitors to suggest that the NPS can change the facts on the ground until the court rules.”

“The solution is simple: the Natural Resources committee, under your leadership, should introduce and take up clean legislation providing the NPS with authority to issue permits for the use of commercial services in designated wilderness within the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks…”

The National Park Service was expected Tuesday to submit its proposed remend to the court. But a remedy hearing is not scheduled until May 23, and the Court has no deadline for issuing final ruling.

As described in congressmen's letter, the legislation necessary to resolve this problem should:

·Provide the National Park Service with clear authority to issue permits for specified commercial services.

·Be limited to the designated wilderness within the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks.

·Ensure the level of commercial services does not exceed the levels authorized by the park service in 2011.

·Limit permits through the end of 2013, or until the Secretary of the Interior issues an “extent necessary” determination that addresses the violations found in the court decision.

Comments

Cyclists can only dream of havig such powerful allies. Looks like Congress will roll over and let horses keep on trampling the trails and destroying the meadows.

To see what "Bipartisanship" in Congress really is, try this:
http://www.valleyadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=3222

(Sorry, Kurt, I forgot about copyright rules this morning.)

Well, I agree with both the republican and democratic congress persons on this issue. The court did not ban the use of commercial stock trips, in fact the wilderness legislation for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon along with the most recent wilderness bill, the Krebs wilderness for Mineral King, specifically allow such use. Usually I am a great friend of the NPS, but this is a case of bureaucratic malfeasance that will put many small business people our of work. These actions/or lack thereof, do not make the NPS friends and supporters, this is not needed right now. Thank you for posting Traveler.

Mr. Dalton: The Lib's so don't deserve a Donkey as their symbol but very smart of them to choose one:).

I hope you see the irony in "trampling the trails". Pack animals have helped build most trails in the back country, and if you have ever been around pack animals grazing you would see how ignorantly you have commented. There is no destruction of meadows, and there are restrictions on grazing as it is. Clearly you have no first hand knowledge of packing and have never seen these animals eating grass in the high country. Please don't leave ignorant comments about subjects which you have no clue about. Maybe you should stick to cycling and fighting for those rights instead of misinterpreting that which you cannot understand.

Megan Thorn:
Welcome to the bulk of today's political dialogue, Megan. So many are separated from the realities but have a need or assume a right to weigh in according to PC lingo. My purpose (it seems) to extend some openness and support leading people into the wilds (those that are willing) to find out in real time the realities that rarely support their assumptions. That's where I choose to live in this discussion and has been fulfilling for myself and my fellow adventurers.

There is no destruction of meadows, and there are restrictions on grazing as it is. Clearly you have no first hand knowledge of packing and have never seen these animals eating grass in the high country. Please don't leave ignorant comments about subjects which you have no clue about. Maybe you should stick to cycling and fighting for those rights instead of misinterpreting that which you cannot understand.

Well, for whatever it's worth, I do have extensive experience watching stock graze meadows (40+ years). There's no question grazing is destructive to the meadows, both by removing grass and by the mechanical impact of hooves and animals rolling for dust baths. The question is how much grazing should be allowed -- if any -- in fragile terrain? What really bothers me is the constant and uncompromising denials by many stock users that they have any impact on meadows and trails. They deny everyone a right to see a pristine meadow go through its natural cycle of green shoots in spring to tall grasses with seeds in late summer. You don't see that when they've been trampled and eaten. I've used this quote before, but it's the best around:

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

There's no question that stock users can do trips such that visitors can have this experience. I've seen packers do outstanding jobs of minimum impact travel. They bring in feed; they camp on already hardened places (bare ground or pine needles); they don't tie to individual trees, highlining their animals well away from water on bare ground; and they rake and scatter the manure when they leave. It's not that hard but these packers are in a minority. As long as most stock users insist they have no impact, they're not contributing to a conversation that can lead to solutions.

Long ago (early 1970s), hikers examined how their numbers and camping practices affected wilderness. They came up with ways of reducing those impacts. They were not stuck in some time warp of how John Muir built huge fires or the Sierra Club traveled in groups of 100+. They saw what was happening and moved quickly to successfully reduce their impact.

It's long past time for stock users to move out of some 'horses won the west' mind set and take an honest look on how they can contribute to equally effective solutions.

Certainly would enjoy your company, gdurkee.
Thanks for the acknowledgement that at least a minority of Packers meet your approval. Wonder if that percentage is higher or lower than when compared to hikers.
As far as your range condition thoughts, It's not arguable that reasonable grazing applications is a benefit while intense grazing is also beneficial in certain situations. Wild herbivores are much more likely to be seen grazing the shorter green grasses following stock grazing rather than those tall, dry, rank grass pastures that go untouched for years at a time.
Just part of my earlier comment about how things aren't always what they seem. Just not always good to be stuck in preconceived ideas and or unwilling to walk in another's shoes since we're here to share these treasures. Promise, I'll listen.

It's interesting how equestrians react whenever anybody broaches the subject of their horse's impact on nature (attacking the messenger rather than arguing the facts). For what it's worth, I'm not against horse riding, but it seems to me that their impact should not be ignored and should be managed properly (which was the goal of that lawsuit). Apparently the NPS wasn't really interested in looking at commercial stock impact. This is another case of money mattering more than protecting the parks.

Zebulon: I don't see where I was attacking the messanger but maybe you were refering to someone else. Just that much of what some throw out there as fact is something out of the Axelrod School of Political Science somewhere on University Avenue. Maybe you gdurkee and I can make a threesome in the backcountry. You can ride and I'll hike just so we're all walking in the other's shoes, sharing the trail.

It's not arguable that reasonable grazing applications is a benefit
while intense grazing is also beneficial in certain situations. Wild
herbivores are much more likely to be seen grazing the shorter green
grasses following stock grazing rather than those tall, dry, rank grass
pastures that go untouched for years at a time.

Ah, hope of a fact based discussion. The difference here, I think, is what's considered good range management practices on areas where grazing is a primary use -- some BLM non-wilderness areas, USFS, and private ranches -- is not an acceptable use elsewhere. What we're talking about here is designated wildnerness and National Park. By law those areas are to be managed for their pristine character: "protect and preserve." So, in fact, that "tall, dry, rank grass" (and I take exception to "rank") is the very reason it's preserved and protected. Unless protected, they are definitely grazed by stock and so not available either to be viewed by visitors or for native species (also protected). Alpine meadows are most definitely NOT pastures. They're meadows and should be managed as that. They're habitat to all sorts of critters, critical riparian habitat and, of course, grasses and forbes.

Which is all to say that, yes, it is arguable. By saying the stock "benefits" a wilderness meadow makes the case that it shouldn't be allowed because it changes the natural succession of the species present and it is horses driving that change. As a matter of policy, law and several court decisions, these areas are not to be managed as pasture. Stock is allowed to the extent that there is a need for them to further narrowly defined wilderness values: bringing people in to enjoy the wilderness, for instance. The courts have clearly said, though, that "desire is not need" (and a great title for the steamy novel to be written about this whole thing). That is, simply because people want (desire) to travel in wilderness by stock does not necessarily mean that they can do so at the expense of causing unaceptable levels of environmental damage.

That said, I don't really see what the fuss in closing permits down is. That was an NPS decision. Nowhere in the court decision or HSHA documents is the suggestion that they do so. The HSHA conditions to comply with the court decision and settle this until a plan is written are really easy for pack stations to comply with and with minimal disruption to how they run their business. Several pack stations already do this stuff and do it well.

Thanks for the acknowledgement that at least a minority of Packers meet your approval. Wonder if that percentage is higher or lower than when compared to hikers.
Well, this is not a zero sum problem. That one group may have more or less impact does not justify impact by the other. The idea is that ALL wilderness visitors reduce their impact so that as many people as possible can enjoy these places. Stock users are on notice by a series of court decisions that they really need to examine how they do things. It doesn't seem to be happening.

George

Keeper, I was referring to Megan. I'm not against horses in wilderness. I'm simply pointing out that horses have the biggest impact of the non motorized users out there. FWIW I rode a horse in Tahoe and I was impressed by the steep trails that the horse could climb and descend. I frankly did not enjoy it that much, but it's a personal preference. I prefer a steed with 2 wheels.

The stock and those trail crews that use them to haul equipment and material in support of the yellow brick roads many hikers enjoy are the heros of the backcountry. If you and any others want to volunteer and do the packing I'm sure there's a list somewhere to sign up. They could leave everything that needs to be packed in at the trail head for those so concerned. Don't forget the piles at the other end that low end backpackers leave. I regret even having this conversation when there are so many out there that are grateful and are great trail companions.

I totally agree!

Whatever horses do in the wilderness pales in comparison to the annual snow pack. Fear not, the WIlderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon is robust and can adequately withstand the impact of a few hundred horses. As a backpacker, I too hate the smell and horse manure on the trail, but for children, the elderly and disabled it is their only means of ingress and egress. Same thing for climbers and cave explorers with 100's of pounds of gear. These Parks are for all Americans. Period.

People forget that the only reason we have Sequoia and Kings Canyon as they exist today are a direct result of very large annual horse packing expeditions into the heart of the High Sierra by the Sierra Club from 1901 through the 1970's. It was from these trips that the political will to enlarge Sequoia, save King's Canyon from the LA DWP and raise funds to purchase Sequoia tracts in private holdings came about.

Rep. George Miller mentioned in the article is an abject Communist and enemy of Freedom, the notion that he is supporting greater access is somewhat ironic in that all of his environmentalist coalition contributors want horses and people out of the park...TOTALLY out. He's really not the go to guy for a GOP compromise.

Obama's 2009 unelected Judicial Appointee shut down horses in the park due to a new and miraculous reading of the Wilderness Act that no one else in the USA has noticed for the last 47 years...what a keen intellect indeed. How this escaped the last 47 years of bureaucrats and 9th circuit judges eludes me. The problem is not the GOP...the problem is unelected radicals infesting our Courts and their willing accomplices in the National Park Service. I'd like to see the Park Service legal brief advocating more Horse packers...oh wiat...nevermind, it doesn't exist.

In fact this is the typical radical environmentalist ploy:

1. Shut down access to any aspect of life by unelected officials.

2. Bureaucrat in charge throws up their hands and says...sorry I can't fix it!

3. Hash it out in the Courts for 7 years

4. By then all affected industries (Horse) packers will be closed.

Examples: Keystone Pipeline, Gulf Oil Drilling, Seki Horse Packers, Yellowstone Snowmobiles...etc etc...Oh By the way....while you people sit here worried about "Horse" access....I hope you realize that the Seki Park Service is meeting TODAY to close off access to HUMAN BEINGS in Sequoia and Kings Canyon....because ya know...we have to be concerned about "Wilderness Carrying Capacity" ...it's on their Facebook page here http://is.gd/eSIjR5

Anyone with an IQ of 90+ knows that you will not get a single Democrat Senator to amend the Wilderness Act. It is their ticket to close down commerce and to receive lucrative campaign funds from the radical greenies. Also they can threaten to close down commerce and get money from both sides. Neat trick.

Lastly as this article purports to condemn the GOP for not solving this problem....Why should they....and how could they??? again....this would never get through the Democrat Senate, just like every jobs, energy bill of the last 2 years.

Methinks it is obvious that someone has been listening to far too much talk radio.

Lee,

You may be surprised, but people learn about this stuff by reading the news.

1. Permits and limits on Half Dome - Because, of course too many people could damage the granite?

2. All pack outfitters and horses removed from Seki. Park service will honor COurts ruling...until its fully resolved in Court. How strange.

3. Now Seki moving to reduce human activity in the Wilderness (Aka 99% Sequoia Kings Canyon) in the name of "wilderness carrying capacity" which is nowhere to be found in the legislation strangely!

lol rather than post an uninformed snarky comment, why not post facts...give it a whirl. If you think I have something factually wrong, please indicate Specifically where, and cite sources. Thanks.

Afterseven, for what it's worth the permits for Half Dome were instituted for safety's sake. Too many people on granite don't damage granite, they damage each other....

Ah, Comrade Lee, Rush and AfterSeven are onto us! Clearly they are smarter than we gave them credit for. Could it have been the statue of Chairman Mao in Leidig Meadow in Glorious Revolution of the People National Park (formerly Yosemite)? Drat! We must hide our Black Helicopters (now in New Black) and await orders from Dear Leader Miller.


First they came for the horses, but I wasn't a horse, so I didn't speak out.

Then they came for the mules, but I wasn't a mule, so I didn't speak out.

Then they came for the asses, but I wasn't a -- wait! Yes!! I must warn everyone. They're out to get us!

Actually - there are suggestions that the sheer number of people hiking the cable route up Half Dome have smoothed out the granite such that it no longer has the grip it once had. As Kurt indicated, the permits weren't instituted to necessarily protect the resource but due to the dangerous conditions at the cables where some would just go on the outside.

As for George Miller - I would note that he was once my Congressman, although the places where I've been registered to vote have changed districts over the years. I voted for him and would have no problem doing so if I lived in his district.

Also - "carrying capacity" isn't written into wilderness enabling legislation. That's all policy and it typically goes into wilderness management plans as well as individual discretion of superintendents. I've gone over the wilderness legislation of wilderness areas I've visited. Nowhere is there any mention of permits, limits, etc. However, there are designated campsites in Point Reyes, overnight trailhead limits in Yosemite, first night zone limits in Desolation Wilderness, day use permits in Desolation, etc. That's all policy and most of it didn't occur with ample chances for the public to review the proposals and comment on them.

George, to a large extent, I understand your response. Irresponsible use of pack animals can have a large and undesirable impact on meadows, particularly when they are wet. Like yourself, I have had the good luck and pleasure of hiking the High Sierra Trails for over 50 years now. I also had the good fortune to work on a grazing impact study over a three year period in Yosemite National Park. A noted NPS scientist, a USFS Researcher, a Professor of Range Management at the University of Arizona and a Range Management scientist from University of California, Berkeley, among others, were involved. It was a very educational experience for me as the study focused on the effects of grazing by horses and mules on several key meadows spread out over the 800 miles of the trail system. The two key elements of the study were biomass reproduction and species composition. We found, and this was only one study, that moderately grazed meadows had little impact on biomass reproduction. Species composition is a more complicated issue, as the plant communities are affected by drought, wet winters, climate change, etc. but generally speaking, we found no adverse grazing impacts except, interestingly enough, at the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, Merced Lake Lake Ranger Station and the Buck Camp Ranger Station. Steps were taken to moderate the impacts at these sites. I personally agree that the Sequoia/Kings needs to do the studies (if they have not already done so), and that grazing impacts need to be monitored. But I do think pack stock has a rightful place in wilderness, just as backpackers do, and the decisions regarding their use be based on sound science, not, and please excuse me for saying this, personal bias. Very educational discussion, thank you Traveler. George, or others, if you can add to this, I would be interested. I am certainly not an expert on this issue.