UPDATE: Seven Mules, Two Horses Owned By National Park Service Dead After Water System Failure

Editor's note: This updates the story with additional details on the size of the pasture, how many horses and mules were there total, who was responsible for checking on them.

Seven mules and two horses owned by the National Park Service for use in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks recently were discovered dead in their winter pasture, possibly due to the failure of a "remote watering system."

The stock were in a 300-acre pasture at the Pixely National Wildlife Refuge about 35 miles south of Tulare and 45 miles north of Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley. The dead animals were discovered Monday, June 4, said Sequoia spokeswoman Dana Dierkes on Friday afternoon.

"Our staff is just heartbroken about what happened," she said. While the watering system did fail, Ms. Dierkes said officials weren't sure that the animals died from lack of water.

"It's still under investigation. We do know the water system failed," the park spokeswoman said. "We don't know if other factors were involved."

There were 17 horses and mules wintering in the pasture, she said. The remaining nine had been seen by a vet, and some continued to be under observation, but they all were expected to survive, the spokeswoman said.

While the Park Service was responsible for monitoring the stock through the winter, Ms. Dierkes did not know how often someone was supposed to check on the animals.

Sequoia/Kings Canyon Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich called the incident "a tragic loss for us. These animals were part of our team and a vital part of park operations. We are heartbroken about what happened and will be investigating this incident thoroughly.”

Comments

What a tragedy. Not only for the loss of life of the livestock but also for the National Park Service. It takes years of training and commitment to get these animals to the level of reliable packing and riding in the backcountry.I am sure this was not done intentionally,but I hope a better way can be found in the future to prevent this from happening again.

As a horse owner and a soemone who loves our National Forest it is unbeleivable that this happened and heads should roll. However NOW is the time to see this does not happen again.

If man power is he problem maybe Volunteers should be called upon.

These government-owned packstrings in the western mountain parks are very expensive. For decades at Olympic, annual costs associated with the packstring were over $100,000, or roughly 25% of the trail budget, yet the animals worked less than half the year, and some of that was management junkets. Those costs included replacing animals, fuel, feed, vet bills, tack, barn & fence maintenance, two permanent employees with benefits and often a seasonal employee as well.

Many parks are at higher elevations with even shorter seasons than Olympic. Some government mules used in trail repair are specially trained for stoneboats & dump boxes, but it seems to me that in many cases the routine supply work could be done more economically by volunteer groups or by contracting with local professional packers.

As a boy, I got involved with playing with friends too long one evening and forgot to feed my dog. When my Dad found out, (the dog began barking early the next morning), he let me go without dinner the next day. Dying of thirst is a slow, agonizing process. Once your body dries out and can't eliminate waste, toxins build up and begin destroying internal organs. Eventually you lose all senses and the heart gives out.

I'd like to send some Park Service workers out for just one day without anything to drink just like I missed one meal after forgetting my dog. I bet you won't find any more dead animals in Park Service custody.

RJones

There is absolutely no excuse for this. The person responsible for these horses and mules felt that driving down once a week to Pixely to check on them was often enough, in spite of warnings that this was NOT often enough. Unfortunately, the trails operation at SEKI is just very inbred, and they are very loath to change the way they've always done business.

"Sequoia/Kings Canyon Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich called the incident 'a tragic loss for us. These animals were part of our team and a vital part of park operations. We are heartbroken about what happened and will be investigating this incident thoroughly.'"

Are you kidding me? A "vital part" of the team left to die without water? What other vital parts of the team are receiving similar attention. I'll bet the "thorough investigation" will take years and will turn up nothing. As usual in government, incompetence will be rewarded; instead of being fired, Ms Taylor-Goodrich and her crack team will be promoted.

Desposito--Why can't you just take the Superintendent's words at face value? I am sure the park staff is heart-broken over this loss. I worked with the trail crews and horse patrols in Yosemite. I know how much they loved their horses and mules, and they would have been similarly heart-broken had such an incident occurred. Snide remarks about future promotions don't express much other than the inability to understand that tragedies like this do happen from time to time.

Rick

Here again, I find myself in agreement with Rick Smith, perhaps because we worked together in both Yellowstone and Yosemite, but like all friends we did disagreed at times. I also worked with the current Superintendent at Sequoia/ Kings, we were wilderness rangers in Yosemite together. I have much respect for her, she was competent, good humored, always did more than her share and was very supportive of the packers and trail crew employees. She was an excellent wilderness ranger plus totally fun to work with. As I was involved in supporting the winter pasture arrangements for Yosemite's horses and mules, we did have someone go to the Kesterson Wildlife refuge once a week to check on the stock. We also had a nice arrangement with the Federal Fish and Wildlife employees and they did daily checks for us, if I remember correctly. The Sequoia/Kings arrangement at Pixley sounds much like Yosemite's. Once a week checks, but somewhere someone did not arrange to have employees at Pixley check up on things, or maybe they did, and it fell through the cracks. Like Rick, I have the utmost respect for these packers and trailcrews, worked with them for 37 years. I also know that both Kesterson and Pixley have salt problems, the bad stuff, but the investigation of this tragic occurence will find the unfortunate cause of the incident. I am sure the NPS will wait for the report and take the appropriate action. Both the Superintendent of Sequoia/Kings and the Chief Ranger, among others, are simply topflight people and public service officials, I know all the Traveler readers would enjoy their company if they had had the opportunity to work with them as I did. Rick is right, the Superintendent of Sequoia/Kings is as upset as all the rest of us.

Your readers should also know this very avoidable loss occurred over the Memorial Day holiday weekend period and the Sequoia/Kings National Park management staff,supervisors and animal packers found it a greater priority to attend and compete at the Mule Days annual events in Bishop Ca; than to insure the well being of live stock dependent on their oversight for water.

So at the cost of the loss of life for seven mules and two horses, SEKI can proudly display worthless trophies and ribbons awarded to NPS aniaml packers at a boondoggle partially funded by taxpayers; hopefully future attendance at this event by Government employees utilizng Government owned property will also be scrutinized by investigators.

Hey Anon, could there be an agenda in your mind before this incident ever happened. Lots of clues in your post that makes me thinks so. This horrible loss is just that, a horrible loss particular so for those closest to the incident. Sorry, but the comparison to last nights horrific midnight opening of Bat Man come to mind. Two main stream news organizations blamed a Tea Party member as the shooter (to further what?). Not so. How about we mourn the loss and not let it happen again.

The over the top comment about taxpayer expense? These packers aren't your usuall 9th Circuit Court Judges or GSA using tax payer dollars to holiday in Hawaii, uh, I better stop there. That thread could go on and on.

Something bad happened and livestock parished, sadly.

In Utah's desert country, I personally know several ranchers who might check on livestock once a month. But they get to write losses off as tax deductions.

Geez Lee,

Almost writing you off, probably should.

There is documented evidence that more than a few "government employees" watch porn on their government computers for many hours a day (no more than 8 for sure), collect lush retirement and other benefits and game the system to the max because they feel they are owed. I do know the fairness of my example. Just following your logic. Need to step out and walk (or ride) in someone else's shoes. Might get something productive achieved.

Doc, I think you missed my point. There are bad apples in most barrels.

Which is another way of saying more than a few government employees don't do these things.

Correction: Instead of "I know the fairness," it should read "unfairness." Sorry.

So Doc, could it be this hits a little to close to home for you, well if the shoe fits wear it!

Maybe you even wore the green and grey at one time.......yep the "good ole boys and girls" are alive and well!

Also , all Federal employees whether Judges,GSA civil servants or yes even NPS personell

should be held accountable for "fraud,waste and abuse", might want to look the up the regulations for clarification.

I'll stop here,as you mentioned thread could go on forever...no point trying to debate a very biased pundit.