You are here

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."


Pure Berkeley, Pelosi sissification in my book! Watched "The Help" last night, an outstanding movie BTW. You and others are in the same book as the enlightened southern bell that wouldn have the help "pooping and peeing" in separate commodes. With all due respect, I couldn't stop laughing at the outrage over horse poop on the trail. You don't gain that outrage in the real "natural" world. Not completely dismissing you Y_P_W knowing the diversity of learning curves but really, it is pretty funny if it wasn't so serious:).

I have no problem with wild animals pooping on the trail. It's their home. I remember coming across the biggest turd I've ever seen - probably from a bison. It was nasty looking but frankly wasn't that bad. Now the time I saw a police horse take a leak on a city street was absolutely nasty.

However, when I see what's obviously horse or mule feces on the trail, what I think of is a person controlling the horse that knows the horse is leaving that behind. If my dog took a dump on a trail, I had to pick it up. There's another article on the SEKI horse packing issue, and one of the comments was from a horse enthusiast who proposes a minimum impact ethic that includes making an attempt to rake feces off the trail.

I pack out my stuff, so I can't be held responsible for what other people do irresponsibly.

You know - there is a requirement for law enforcement who are authorized to carry non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray or Tasers. They're required to experience the device being deployed on themselves to understand the consequences of using such devices. I personally think that those venturing into the backcountry with animals should perform acts to minimize the impacts, such as cleaning up feces regularly to understand the consequences of using that means of transportation.

Y_P_W: I am sorry you object to the mule or horse poop on the trail. What I find much more objectionable is what I found strewn around a water cache site I returned to in the back country two days ago were the multiple toilet paper (used) marked deposits of the the more (seemingly) enlighted ones. Horses and mules are much closer in relationship to the coyotes, deer, bears (they do poop on the trails and in some cases poop people remains), Mt. Lions (which also occasionally pick off the slow walkers) and any number of God's creatures. None of which leave toilet paper to mark their territory.

I've read with agreement many of your posts but have been dissapointed of late. Maybe it's just me:).

I have a certain degree of idealism. However, I'm also realistic that our wilderness system doesn't operate in a vacuum. It's a product of a political system and its very future is dependent on playing ball with the politicians who can control it. I also feel that there are varying opinions as to the best use in our wilderness areas.

As for pack trips, I certainly don't have any problem. However, I've run into horse poop. I would propose that there be some sort of leave no trace ethos for horses and mules. When I walked my dog in the park or on the street, I was required to pick up any feces. left by my dog So why wouldn't it be reasonable for horse packers to remove any solid waste - either hauling it away or burying it off-trail like I'd be required to do if I did my business in the backcountry.

With a good deal of respect to Y_P_W and others that have posted on here what has bothered me from the beginning of my involvement with NPT is the absence of virtue. That might seem odd to many but that's where I'm at. Everything seems to be up for examining microscopically what is good and what is bad. Man himself is God, okay girls included covering the PC world, which means some of us are so inlightened as to presume they are the arbiters of what's good for the earth and people be damned. This shows up in untold examples. Since a very young age I've been connected to all the extremes of the "environment" pleasurable and the challenging. It is all one deal, friends. When some want to change the dynamics to fit their particular learning curve, it just makes a mockery of the natural world and is doomed. The defining greatness of what these wild places can contribute to us is to put ourselves in perspective which generally makes us more insignificant and the most connected. These are my thoughts with great respect to individual learning curves wherever they may be. My suggestion (humbly) is to not try and bring down the bar (that can only be) to your own comfort zone but to aim for that which lifts everyone. I do understand the challenges and am in for the long game. That's where I've chosen. Stock use belongs in wilderness areas.


steve citron:
Thank You Sir for your remarks on the loss of trails, lands, and the rampant destruction of wilderness by motorized vehicles.

I do ride a horse to access the High Sierra, and a someone with significant disabilities, must have a companion to help me on and off, as well to do some of the lifting nessesary. Horse manure, hoof prints, ETC. are a normal part of the wilderness, and do not pollute anymore than the"bear who S##tsin the woods."

What does this have to do with the question at hand, which would be commercial packing trips into the wilderness? As it stands, motorized vehicles aren't allowed in wilderness areas with the exception of some maintenance vehicles where the use has been written into the enabling legislation. There are places that are potential wilderness areas that are serviced by helicopters, as well as some that allow limited powerboats.

As for bears - I thought they typically do their business off the trails.

All these folks have good points, and as someone with significant physical disabilities, I would like to chime in.

If I did NOT use my mare for entry into the forest, I would NOT be able to photograph, enjoy the thrill of camping, and enjoy the fresh air. True I must go with someone to help me on and off the horse, and to help me with heavy lifting. I find some folks have made some statements that are just not true. Horse hoofs are not carrying seeds into wilderness areas, auto tires are a more likely source, as well as birds, manure, while it may be unsightly, is not a pollution hazard anymore than a deer, ( which does carry pathogens transmittable to humans). I refer you to the articles by the Back Country Horsemen, who with researchers, and a pathologist, found no hazard from horse manure, except the chance of a "green badge". In this day and age, there are so few horse trails available, and so few of us horse riders, that to object smacks of elitism! I have hiked in my youth from Horse Meadows near Lone Pine, to Tioga Pass, as a Boy Scout, and will remember that trip all my days. I am now 66 yrs old, and after a life of using my body too roughly, now am partially crippled. To enjoy the quiet, and serene trails, fish the high country, and photograph for my "Old Age" is my goal.

Now, you have a couple of my 2'C's

Hey George, a mixed message but one question:  How do you mitigate all those challenged kids and adults and yes, healthgy individuals that will be excluded from the experience of discovering things about themselves through their rides and the great places that they enter into?  Attention, mostly is put on the commercial aspect of those providing the service.  Are you going to step up and pack another private citizen's gear and carry them into the wilds?  Sounds pretty selfish to me.  Always room for improvement,  even for those that don't quite get what someone elses deal is about.  Fills me up to see the transformation that happen with just about everyone that I've led.  Better people they become, respectfully.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments