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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.


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.


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.

@ 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.

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.

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!

@Central valley 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"'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 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.

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.

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.

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