Moving with amazing speed, the House of Representatives today passed on a voice vote legislation designed to permit commercial horse packers to operate in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks this summer as usual. The bill still needs to be considered by the Senate, however.
Earlier this week five Democratic congressmen from California urged the Republican leadership of the House Natural Resources Committee to resolve the horse-packing stalemate with a one-year remedy. The plan was to pass legislation to allow this summer's horse packing to commence while the National Park Service works to complete studies needed to determine a specific limit of horse-pack trips.
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.
Legislation requested by the Democrats was passed by unanimous consent on on the House floor this morning.