President Sent Legislation To Allow Commercial Horse Packing In Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Park

Legislation that clears the way for the National Park Service to resume issuing permits for commercial horse pack trips in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks headed Friday to President Obama for his signature.

A group of California lawmakers made that announcement after the House approved a bill that includes changes by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, that were approved by the Senate on Thursday.

The lawmakers, led by Rep. George Miller, were instrumental in advocating for legislation to resolve the issue after a court order prevented the Park Service from issuing the 2012 permits.

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 has not been trying to ban outright horse trips into the high country of the two parks, but rather has been seeking 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 has asked a federal judge to order the agency to rein-in the pack trips. The association was scheduled to ask the judge during a hearing next Wednesday 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.

That move prompted the California lawmakers, not willing to await the outcome of the upcoming hearing, to legislate a solution. The bill passed by Congress directs the Park Service to issue permits for commercial stock operations in the wilderness areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks. These permits are to be issued to local outfitters, packers, and guides whose businesses have been impacted by court-ordered ban.

Under the Senate’s revised legislation, the permits are to be issued at use levels that the Park Service determines are appropriate, a more permissive standard – meaning more permits could be issued – than the initial House-passed legislation, according to congressional aides.

The quick-moving victory was lauded by lawmakers.

“Summer visits are important to families, visitors, and small businesses in the area and from across California,” Rep. Miller said after the bill passed the House on Friday. “We owe a sincere thank-you to Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein for championing this issue, making needed improvements to the House-passed bill, and quickly acting to help Californians.”

The House gave the bill final approval under a unanimous consent agreement Friday afternoon.

Comments

I'm amazed at the productive problem solving achieved here, simply amazing! Thanks to everyone that helpped make it happen. Kudos!

So the concessionairres win yet again in this heavily lobbied National Park Service. With this kind of corporate influence in the NPS one could argue our parks are already privatized.

John:

You think these very small concessions have any exceptional influence over NPS? We're not talking about some sports team owner or Coca Cola. Unnoticed by your comment is that the Public led the charge here. Not special interests like the well connected Berkeley/MOFO and their conflicted Judge.

I could not be more greatful to the many people who worked so tirelessly on this issue. What they have done is not only protect our rights and freedoms for the years to come, but have also helped many families including my own be able to continue traditions of packing in the back country. The comment above was correct about this issue/problem being led by the public. All anyone had to do was pick up their local paper in the central valley of California and read the letters to the editor and or the comments section of any articles relating to this issue and you would see how outraged the public was over the possible ban on packers. What I find not only amazing but scary as well is that after some research myself I learned that this "hiker's group" was comprised of about 500 members. This group has been very quick to respond in this whole mess that they created by trying to tell the public that it was not nor has it ever been their intention to have commercial packers banned from the wilderness, all they wanted was to lessen their useage. Well that statement is in the beginning but if you continue reading on down you would see how carefully words are chosen and that yes they do feel commercial packers and horses themselves are a major problem to the wilderness as they see it. When I said that this is scary about this group comprising of only around 500 people it is because a lot of problems were caused and unnecessary resources had to be used to defend ourselves and our rights and freedoms from a very small group of people that the majority of Amercians including our politicians did not agree with.

Again my sincere appreciation to the many who fought over the past few months for us all. It is dedicated indivduals such as yourselves that give me inspiration and renewed belief in our Country. Thank you

What an incredible double standard. Mountain bikers can't get justice from Congress for 20 years for access to national parks and federal Wilderness for environmentally benign, minimal-impact quiet recreation, but the commercial luxury outfitters get a bill through in 3 months to continue trampling and degrading high-altitude national park meadows with their fly-attracting, dust-generating, manure-generating horses and packstock. That is disgusting. It's also a gross interference by Congress with the NPS's management discretion. I almost wondered if the NPT article was a spoof, it's so appalling. Plainly the difference is money and personal experience. The ancient fossils in Congress like horses and mules because their rich friends ride them, and their rich friends have the money and access to speak to them about their concerns. Mountain bikers are too young and have too little money, and therefore too little influence, to be heard. It's gross.

Both mountain bikes and horses are very destructive to any trail system--and I would also add so are too many hikers. Let's leave this to the NPS for a few years and keep tabs on the degradation issues and then revisit this. I worked as a backcountry ranger for 7 years in alpine areas and after just a couple years, recommended to the NPS that horses and fires be banned in certain areas--and they were. These alpine areas have recovered substantially and the horses still have access to some trail systems. With more people visiting our parks and less money designated to run them, more regulation will be needed.

Doug, I respect your experience as a backcountry ranger, but where did you see, in your years of work, that mountain bikes caused any more trail degredation than hikers cause? I've ridden my mountain bikes literally tens of thousands of miles and rarely have I seen any difference between the two groups' impacts. Where I have (very, very rarely) seen it, it's been either temporary and trivial (some ruts on a wet trail) or caused by poor trail design.

It's true that mountain bikers sometimes skid, which hikers can't do. But hikers cut switchbacks and walk and up and down hillsides, a far more common phenomenon. Backpackers trample vegetation for campsites. Walkers generally litter more than mountain bikers.

More to the point, both hikers and mountain bikers have a trivial impact compared to horses and packstock. Any number of peer-reviewed (as opposed to PEER-reviewed!) scientific studies, all widely available online, show this.

All so much me me me in the discussion. Need an attitude change but that's the present culture and political divisive tactics. Get along and appreciate someone else's deal. On the pack stock? They pay their way and then some not only in support of trails and hikers but a lot that hikers can't normally understand thus suggest stepping out of yourself or stay out in the backcountry to really appreciate what's out there instead of your own achievement (humbling).

I am glad that a group of hikers had the courage to speak up and draw attention to NPS's admitted failure to control the damage caused by packers.

Editorials from the Central Valley are hardly proof that the public disagreed with the High Sierra group. Such a sample selection is heavily biased toward individuals with wise use attitudes toward the wilderness, far right political views about conservation and the environment, and severaly warped concepts about what personal rights and freedom mean in the context of publicly shared resources. No doubt many of them find the very idea of government-managed national parks to run counter to their desire for free markets. Many of them would dismantle such a park system or, more likely, see the entire thing turned over to private or commercial interests for profit alone. Most in the Central Valley haven't ventured much farther than driving a vehicle through Yosemite Valley, and they have no idea what we stand to lose by not protecting these pristine areas and preserving them through laws and government regulation. Many of these individuals are easily (mis)led by politicians and industry types that prey on the misplaced fears instilled in them by radio and TV personalities who have convinced them that any public resource that government establishes and maintains for the well-being of citizens is "socialist."

Packers have a unfortunate reputation for being inconsiderate backcountry visitors. I've heard it from rangers themselves and have seen it myself both on and off trail. Riding into the backcountry with loads of car camping junk (I've seen huge coolers and chairs) strapped to overworked animals is a far cry from walking into the wilderness on one's own power. There is no such thing as the freedom to pollute and destroy national park lands for profit.

I happen to agree with you (imtnbke) about mountain bikers having minimal impact. Why they ever got banned is beyond me, but I feel it is a complete injustice to everyone. When "individual" groups work against each other instead of with each other this is usually the result, and yes the one with the most money usually wins...also wrong...

When any group of people start trying to have the other eliminated it is a major cause for concern in my opinion. The national parks, the wilderness is there for us ALL to enjoy, so be very careful when you agree with or are a group that is trying to have another banned because you and your group just might be next...The fact that we all enjoy nature in differnt ways is ok, it really is, but what is not ok is trying to tell someone else how to live and what they can and cannot do; such as the mountain biking and earlier problem with the packers....You see I am not a packer or associated with any of them in anyway other than my son worked for one for a few years, but I am smart enough as a horse enthusiast who enjoys the back country with her horse to know that the "hikers" wouldn't have stopped there...That would just be getting their foot in the door to later on have us all banned until it was just them, "the hikers" left to enjoy the wilderness that was intended for us all.

The National Parks (wilderness) is a way of life for some people, a tradition for others, therapy for many, a source of great education for children and adults, and lastly, just a beautiful breath taking experience that should be able to be experienced by everyone regardless of their intrests...

Mountain biker, I wish you the best and I will continue to work towards advocating for everyones rights for our parks, especailly yours...

While you stand correct at there not being a "freedom to pollute and destroy national park lands for profit" I must disagree with you about the inconsiderate view you say is posed of "packers" Are they so inconsiderate that they stop their whole mule and horse pack train to carry out an injured hiker? (seen it many times!) Are they so inconsiderate that they take the extra time to see to it that the handicapped also get to the back country? (some handicapped people and elderly who use packers must sit in chairs and as for the ice chests...many have medications that must be kept cold...if its large or not how does this affect you again?) Are they so inconsiderate that many and I mean many carry garbage bags in their saddle bags to pick up trash left behind at campsites by who knows? You must also be talking about them being inconsiderate again in the early season when there is still snow and its quite cold and freezing when they are fixing trails that are used by not only them but hikers as well? Maybe you're talking about the dust that the animals can create...well that is true there is dust and that is why most riders usually wear a bandana...Hey if you give me the address to your organization I will gladly donate a case or two of bandanas for your group..

Maybe some valley people do see Yosemite by car..who cares? Maybe thats their only chance...Who am I or anyone else to tell them its wrong or they shouldn't, that if they don't "hike it" or "ride it" then they just shouldn't be allowed to talk about it?

As far as a "warped concepts" of personal rights and freedoms from publicy shared resources....I guess I'm warped if I think they should be able to be enjoyed by all, no special group more important that the other and that includes mountain bikers...

You have tried to make it sound here like these valley individuals are idiots? You say they are so easily influenced by conservative radio ads and such....(you must be one of those who listens to KMJ knowing they are conservative talk radio only to get upset at some of our commercials, that you call us and tell us how wrong we are and that you would never buy a car or truck from us.....No Suits, No ties, No lies.....lol) Well heres the deal....they are not idiots, and you're right many of us do not like over regulated government...but that in no way means we want to see our National Parks destroyed anymore than you do. We just believe different and that is ok. What we feel is not ok is putting ones desires and beliefs over anothers with the intention of them being banned. I applaud you for being able to walk the wilderness by "your own power" however I kindly ask you to consider the many who cannot, but who also wish to enjoy the same sights and freedom as yourself...

This should not be a political debate here...this is about us all being able to enjoy the National Parks by whichever means suits us, all the while maintaining its pristine beauty. There clearly is enough for us all , and the importance of protecting everyone's right's of use is clearly the message I intended to make. Nothing more nothing less....

Thanks, Tammy. That's an excellent comment. And I apologize if I was too heated about horses and packstock in my prior comment.

Not a problem imtnbke...the mountain bikers have been wrongly banned and that too needs to change. Your frustration on this issue is absolutely justified and no apology necesssary but I thank you anyway.

This is funny. The website isn't letting me edit my prior comment. I meant to say that I was referring positively to Tammy's comment of 8:04 a.m. I see she's posted another one since, but I haven't read it yet.

Also, we don't have to be neutral toward all uses, even as we recognize that there are forces out there that would like us to be divided and squabble among ourselves. I've seen enough outfitter-pack-train damage to wildlands that I could never become enthusiastic about commercial packstock trains on public lands that mountain bikers and hikers like to visit. In that sense, I agree with Central Valley Backpacker's comment above. But Tammy's comment about the politics of this issue is very important and I need to keep it in mind.

Our comments crossed again! Thanks, Tammy. I look forward to reading further posts from you.

Yes, the wilderness is certainly there to be enjoyed and accessed by all who desire to experience its expanse and beauty, but commercial packers and those who profit from the wilderness aren't necessarily there to enjoy those things. Their sole purpose is to profit from it. And how often do people seeking profit stop in the interest of the environment? Sadly, they rarely do. That is the danger here. At what point does wilderness exist for its own purpose? Not for human enjoyment or pleasure or profit but for the flora and fauna that live so precariously in its often hostile environs?

When human activities (even hiking) begin to impact this environment in irreversible ways, will humans have the integrity to stop doing what they are doing, even if it is profitable? Take a look at the oceans to find your answer. I don't want to see the Sierra turned into the same kind of garbage dump because a very small group of people feel that they have a right to profit from the wilderness or access it at all costs. These activities must be limited and tightly controlled and watched carefully for conflict of interest. NPS itself admitted that it had ignored the negative impacts of stock in SEKI. That right there is a cause for serious concern.

I've tired of hearing that this irreplacable natural thing and that irreplacable natural thing must be sacrificed on the altar of the economy, profit, or access. That sort of profits-first, humans-first thinking has gotten us into the many messes we're in today.

I'm not sure this issue needs to be so black-and-white as either you are 100% for or 100% against packers. IMO, I do not personally plan on using packers but I think they should be allowed to operate in national parks. That said, I have been on some trails that are more or less destroyed due to packers (either degraded steps, cr*p everywhere, or ten-foot-wide sand slogs). I think there is ample reason to limit the number of pack animals per trip, and to limit the trails and basins they are allowed to operate in.

@Central valley backpacker....you make a valid point "irreplacable natural thing must be sacrificed on the altar of the economy, profit, or access" but I do believe that there is "middle ground" here so that this can be avoided. In order to achieve this however, all groups involved should and must be willing to sit down and work together, not against such in what has already taken place with the "mountain bikers" ..They were banned again because why? I havent' researched their issue too much yet, but I'm willing to bet it was because "some group" got annoyed, or what they consider "inconvienced" by them a few times so they rallied to have them banned. And unfortunately this was probably done by having enough money and knowing the "right contacts" Enviromental impact studies are great, but we all know that even those can be made to look like whatever the interested party wants them to in order to further their own cause. I would like to believe that the average person is smart enough to look around up there and say...ok we should probably back off a little in this area...but instead the "blame game" begins and usually doesn't end until court or they get a sacraficial lamb like the mountain bikers so that everyone "feel" like they did something to help.

Now, as for "seeking a profit" ...here's the deal here; sure a profit would be great for anyone, but the only thing the "packers" pray for during their season is to "break even" and be able to pay their bills. Trust me the money is not the reason they are there. The cost of running a pack station is much higher than one might think. Hay is at an all time high, each animal to be shod is around $90 each every 6 weeks or so, vet bills for routine vaccines and unexpected mishaps, replacing tack, maintaining their camp, insurances are higher, and then of course the "cowboys" their help have to be paid. I'm not telling you this for sympathy, I'm simply trying to make sure the public is aware that being a "packer" and operating one of these stations is not and never will be a "get rich" job. You may ask why are they even there then? Well that answer is actually quite simple...they love the wilderness as much if not more than the next guy. Many were raised up there, and its just a tradition in their families that they would like to see continue.

Relying on the "Government" to regulate use for us so that these parks and their pristine beauty can be preserved is only going to push the cause for them to be closed to everyone sooner rather than later. How about "we" as groups actually start to try and work together not against one another....? It's a long shot I know, but it is possible. Think about what the Park systems are facing right now with all of their cuts that have been put on them...now add a bunch different "use" groups who are calling them and complaining about the other everyday...ok you get the picture...It's like they are in charge of a bunch of 1st graders at recess who do not know how and do not want to learn how to share; Read on:

Now little "Johnny's " dad is calling the teacher because the soccer kids are using the ball he wants to use for kickball and there are more kids that want to play kickball (he says) so he shouldn't have to share it, besides the soccer kids destroy the grass more...(he says is a fact) Now the teacher thinks for a second because she doesn't want "johnny's dad" upset since he donates classroom supplies oh ya and his brother is on the school board...umm so the decsion is made and the soccer kids lose...(just like the mountain bikers did) because no one playing soccer donated as much or had a connection to the board...

My point being by relying on someone else (the government) this will always be the way...however by working together as responsible adults not only can we all enjoy our freedoms and rights to the parks, but we can make sure its pristine beauty is maintained by setting resonable limits among ourselves and learning about one another and their groups needs and desires. The best part here would be that we would not only be setting a great example for our children, but maybe...just maybe..our politicains would take notice.

Tammy: Great post!What I have noticed is that there are a significant number of people with some of the most experience in the backcountry and, truly, are at home in it and with themselves, just don't understand why so much has to be divisive. Kind of like a dysfunctional family that has lost it's way and risks losing everything. There are people out there that profit from the divisions. The community organizer what has come to the forefront in recent years, comes to mind that in itself seems to encourage misery when none needs to be with simple mutual respect and courtesy. When I'm presented with an attitude I've, almost always:), been able to respond in the opposite and it's remarkable how the incident changes into a positive direction which just makes the backcountry experience even more remarkable. Maybe I've just learned manners in my advanced aged. That's my story anyway and I'm sticking with it, lol!

No one has pointed out that the "hikers" group has made bank by getting "lawyers fees" given to them after each of their lawsuits as part of the settlement. They are a frivilous lawsuit mill and it is very profitable for the small group that runs it.

@ Wilderbeast....I was not aware of this...ugh I will say I have read some on the "hikers" websites, and it doesn't take more than a few paragraphs to understand what they hoped to accomplish in this lawsuit and the future ones that were clearly in the works.

If "making bank" through settlements, tying up the court systems, wasting ones time and resources is the norm for this group or any other group they should be ashamed of themselves! There is so much more in life to be appreciated. Trying to tell others how to live, and what they can and cannot do would seem to me to very exhausting not to mention arrogant.

Protecting the National Parks and their pristine beauty, and finding ways to preserve this for the future generations is a goal we all should seek with pure intentions...and that my friends can be done by working together, not against one another.

Excellent May 26 comment, Tammy. In particular, we mountain bikers suspect you're right about how our second-class status was conferred in the early 1980s, though no one's been able to prove it.

I also agree with you when you say, "Relying on the 'Government' to regulate use for us so that these parks and their pristine beauty can be preserved is only going to push the cause for them to be closed to everyone sooner rather than later." The exclusion-minded hikers, however, know they'll never be banned in their lifetime, and so would be happy to see everyone else ousted so they can have the national parks to themselves, even if they rarely visit them. (Of course, not all hikers, maybe not even a majority, are exclusion-minded, I hasten to add.)

You're also mostly right to say: "Think about what the Park systems are facing right now with all of their cuts that have been put on them . . . now add a bunch different 'use' groups who are calling them and complaining about the other everyday . . . ok you get the picture . . . It's like they are in charge of a bunch of 1st graders at recess who do not know how and do not want to learn how to share." I think we mountain biking access advocates have made such efforts where we're disadvantaged. We've offered trail-sharing plans like alternate-day use, in which we'd be allowed to ride them on the odd or even days of the month and hikers who find us disasteful could be assured of not seeing us on half the days. These olive branches, however, get no traction with the naysayers. However, sadly, it appears that we're no better when we have the advantage. A few years ago I read about a public park in Michigan in which mountain bikers have access but equestrians don't. The equestrians politely asked for some access. The mountain bikers said not as far as they were concerned, and brought up all sorts of complaints about horses, just as the segregationists on this website trot out their laundry list of complaints about cyclists but make no effort to try to figure out a fair management plan. It's a sad commentary on the human condition.


I do believe that there is "middle ground" here so that this can be
avoided. In order to achieve this however, all groups involved should
and must be willing to sit down and work together,


Tammy: Excellent! That said, what do you propose? While you seem to strongly disagree with their proposal, HSHA does at least have one. They proposed that stock not be allowed to graze above 9,700 feet in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. They did so to protect what they saw as unnaceptable -- and well documented -- damage to fragile alpine terrain by stock grazing. Equally important, they strongly feel that all park visitors have a basic right to experience pristine -- ungrazed -- alpine meadows as they have existed for thousands of years before humans came. That's the idea of National Parks and Wilderness.

As I have noted elsewhere, a visitor travelling south on the John Muir Trail is not able to have the experience of a pristine and iconic Sierra meadow for over 100 miles of travel until reaching Vidette. And then not again until just below Mt. Whitney. ALL major meadows along the JMT are open to grazing. HSHA was just proposing that at least a few areas be closed to grazing. Importantly, they would not be closed to stock camping, only to grazing. Packers could carry their own feed.

Now, maybe that's unreasonable. Perhaps, as some of the packers claim, they can't carry that much feed (though I've seen it done). Still, HSHA has proposed a starting point. Nowhere have I seen the slightest recognition by packers that stock do disproportionate ecological damage nor do they seem willing to in any way compromise in reducing that impact or where they graze.

It's truly a worthy goal to have an actual discussion among interested parties and avoid lawsuits etc. But to the extent you talk to those in the packer community, is there anyone willing to agree to some level of compromise? Along the JMT, say, what specific meadows would the packer community agree to not graze in to allow a pristine meadow experience for all?

Finally, I think it would also help the discussion if people wouldn't throw out unhelpful and, really, inflammatory accusations about various interest groups. I get really bothered by repeated statements that, for instance, HSHA is out to ban all stock; or that they're only in it for the money or just to create trouble. One of the first steps in a discussion seeking solutions is a mutual respect for the motivations of the other side. I have long known and respected (most) all of the packers and owners I've met over the years. I want to them stay in business and to continue to bring people in to enjoy the Sierra. That same decency and respect does not seem to be returned to those who challenge them. Let's start there.

George