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.