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Effort To Reduce Horse Access To Wilderness In Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks Turning Into Wedge Issue



Horses are becoming the latest wedge issue in the National Park System, as efforts to reduce their access to wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks are being portrayed both as a job killer and a denier of your right to visit the parks.

At least one congressman is blaming the Obama administration for "pushing backcountry horsemen out of business," while a petition drive launched on claims that, "Young people, old people or any person with a disability will lose their right to visit Sequoia National Park with the removal of this option of travel."

Spurring the political vitriol and off-base access claims is an effort by the High Sierra Hikers Association 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 (attached below) filed last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the hikers association asked Judge Seeborg 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.

Additionally, the group said the court should order the Park Service to ban the hauling by stock of "unnecessary items" into wilderness areas. Such items, the filing noted, include "tables, chairs, ice chests, and amplified sound players."

Doing so, and ordering the Park Service to rewrite its management plan as it applies to pack trips, is necessary to protect wilderness areas, the association maintained.

Until now, commercial stock have trampled wilderness meadows, leaving their wilderness character impaired.  Commercial stock have also been used to carry unnecessary items and luxury goods into the wilderness, turning these national parks into theme parks and frustrating the enjoyment of (Sequoia and Kings Canyons)’s wilderness areas as wilderness.  Interim relief will avoid irreparable environmental injury to SEKI’s wilderness areas until NPS considers whether, and to what extent, commercial stock services are necessary.

The case has been making its way through the legal system since 2009. In its initial lawsuit, in September 2009, the hikers association 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.

But 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 back in January, Judge 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, 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."

In seeking injunctive relief at a hearing set for May 23, the hikers association cited past rulings by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the public's best interest is "in maintaining pristine wild areas unimpaired by man for future use and enjoyment." At the same time, the group's motion notes, the approach to managing backcountry horse trips at Sequoia and Kings Canyons is detrimental to those qualities.

"Letters from park visitors also reveal that current levels of commercial stock services frequently prevent visitors from enjoying the primeval character, solitude, and natural conditions associated with wilderness," the association's petition said.

In one letter, visitors said their trip was "ruined by the huge amount of dust created by stock animals”; another wrote that "(T)he character of the wilderness experience that we can usually count on when three or four days from the trailhead is completely destroyed when a large group of people camp in the area with all the comforts of home [which they have carried in using stock]”; and another stated that "instead of enjoying the pure alpine air, which is one of the points of a trip in the first place, hikers are forced to breathe a mixture of dust and powdered manure that creates air quality that would not be tolerated . . . on any freeway in California.”

The petition also pointed that "NPS acknowledged in the GMP that 'backcountry hikers often are disturbed by the impacts of stock use — the presence and smell of urine or feces, the potential introduction of alien weeds, heavily grazed and trampled meadows, dust, erosion, and some widened trails.'"

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, somehow connected the hikers association's efforts with Obama administration. In a column on his blog last week the congressman wrote that:

Rural mountain communities are once again in the cross-hairs of liberal politicians and regulators. Having already devastated California’s mining and timber industries with laws and regulations limiting access to public lands, environmental radicals have moved full speed into a new round of limitations that impact recreational use of our National Parks. They want to eliminate the backcountry horsemen, the only means left by which the vast majority of Americans, including those with disabilities, are able to gain access to the American wilderness.

  Furthermore, Rep. Nunes maintained that "... the Obama Administration is pushing backcountry horsemen out of business at the same time it is urging Americans to “get outdoors.”

The White House could demonstrate an interest in protecting these “outdoor” jobs with a simple act – one that it has so far refused to entertain. The Administration simply needs to ask the court for a one year extension of existing permits. A one year extension would allow adequate time for the permitting process to be updated in order to reflect new wilderness requirements and it may spare the small but time honored industry from the chopping block.

  Meanwhile, over at, a petition drive aimed at U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, has gathered more than 1,300 signatures in support of horse trips into wilderness areas.

Horses allow access to your Federal lands when you are unable or unwilling to hike to reach the wilderness. Young people, old people or any person with a disability will lose their right to visit Sequoia National Park with the removal of this option of travel.

  But the matter at hand would not jeopardize anyone's right to visit Sequoia, nor would it place the park's wilderness, which comprises roughly 90 percent of the park's high country, out of reach. It could make obtaining a slot on a horse trek into the backcountry a bit more difficult, depending upon how Judge Seeborg rules. In that regard, though, some might equate that with the challenge of obtaining a room in the Yosemite Valley or at Old Faithful in Yellowstone.


The DOI and NPS are systematically
removing us from the lands they manage. Look at a few of the lawsuits and
public issues before DOI and NPS:

mining in AZ,

farming in Point Reyes, CA,

in Yellowstone, MT,

ORV on
Big Cypress, FL,

pipelines in NE,

right to gather on the 4th of July at Yorktown
Victory Center, VA,  

Padre Island, Texas will now have a reduced speed limit due to the
final rule at Cape

Back country horseback travel in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, CA

Can you now see whats happening in
your home state and all across America?

We are making Audubon, DOW, Southern Environmental Law Center and many other
‘environmental’ Attorneys Happy and Wealthy as they continue to sue us, the
Federal Government, in the name of Conservation.

up America!!  Have your Congressman co sponsor Mr. Jones
bill #4094…… Ms. Feinstein (CA), Mr. Harris (MD), Mr. Rigell (VA), Mr. Cantor
(VA) restoring access to Cape

The dots at Cape
Hatteras National
Seashore Recreational Area are now connected:

Eliminate the vehicles and nesting

Eliminate the people and nesting

Eliminate the dogs and nesting

Eliminate the kites and nesting

Walk only in the water and nesting

Kill all the predators (animals and
birds) and nesting increases.

Hey, if the weather helps us out, nesting increases.

Now lets charge a nice permit fee
($120/calendar year- $50/week) and make it inconvenient to obtain (In person
only at 3 locations 50 miles apart) and maybe that will help complicate things

Do it all at the same time and
nobody can say what really caused anything. Not that it matters.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area will become the
boilerplate for NPS and DOI rules.......Those plovers and turtles came in handy, didn't they

Gee, Hatras, most of those things sound pretty reasonable from here.

Hatrasfevr, just for clarification:

* A 10 mph reduction in speed limit at Padre Island, from 25 to 15, should not chase anyone off the beach, and it's only in effect from March 1 to Labor Day, the busy season in the park and when endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles come ashore to nest.

* At Yellowstone, after more than a decade of lawsuits, snowmobiles are still allowed in the park, and I would anticipate the next iteration of the winter use plan will continue to allow them to some degree. At the same time, snowcoaches continue there, as well, so no one is being removed from the park.

* ORVs are not being removed from Big Cypress. Indeed, the Park Service there is fully behind them. There are outside efforts, however, to limit where they can drive.

* At Sequoia, there are not efforts to end backcountry horse travel in the park. There are efforts to reduce commercially outfitted trips by 20 percent from 2007 levels, and to get the Park Service to adhere to The Wilderness Act and its own regulations.

Also, Hatrasfevr, the fireworks at Yorktown and celebrations are back on. The Superintendent changed his mind after they changed a few things that would protect the historic buildings and people watching them.

It's not just commercial packstrings that bring "unnecessary items" such as "tables, chairs, ice chests, and amplified sound players" in National Parks. A former long-time Trail Foreman at Olympic organized repeated mule-supported backcountry junkets for NPS managers who would otherwise have been incapable of 'ranging' out of sight of the pavement. These junkets would also include large amounts of alcohol, even though he had been previously run out of Grand Canyon when caught flying an entire helicopter slingload of beer into the backcountry. This is just one small example of the waste, sense of entitlement, and lack of consequences for offenders that permeates NPS management.

It is clear from your quotes that what is driving the High Sierra Hikers is that they are annoyed by horses- the smell, the dust, stepping in their crap, etc.  So, to get rid of the horses, the hikers seek to misportray equestrians as lazy alcholic partiers who are too lazy to hike, like them.  Classic strategy.  Come on- resorting to examples like bringing in coolers full of alcohol, chairs and music?  Those are red herring arguments.  If that's happening and you truly want to stop just that, here's how- issue a rule banning coolers full of alcohol, chairs and music.  Real simple.  But if they did that, they wouldn't be able to sensationalize their arguments and play into people's (and judges) prejudices.
The bottom line is this- this is a user conflict problem.  Hikers against horsemen.  However, the hikers fail to note that horsement CUT those very same trails that the hikers have now found and come to use.  Plus, horse use is BELOW what it was in the past.  If horse activity was truly creating the amount of harm that is being portrayed, these places would never have been designated wilderness to begin with.
It's a shame that you are playing along with this spin- but then again it's clear you are a hiker, not a horsemen.  You're going to alienate a lot of true conservationists and wilderness lovers who happen to like to ride horses by characterizing them as drunken partiers who go off into the wilderness for a big party.

Anonymous -- you're about to convince me to prohibit anonymous posts, but that's an aside -- don't blame the messenger for the message.

I've ridden horses into wilderness areas in the past, and in the national forests, and if my father-in-law -- a Wyoming rancher who knows a few things about horses and has owned more than you or I ever likely will -- thought I was against horses he'd probably drag me behind a couple of his through the sagebrush....

Note:  There are quite a few people posting on here using my name, Kurt:).  Believe for the most part the site benefits more than it hurts (using my name).  You have a very significant site here and applaud you for having it.

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