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Packers granted access to backcountry

May 21, 2012

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks can now issue permits to commercial stock packers and guides thanks to the quick passage of legislation through the U.S. House and Senate. Photo courtesy National Park Service

Packers have reason to celebrate this Mule Days.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Backcountry Access Act Thursday afternoon.
Yesterday morning the House of Representatives approved the changes made by the Senate to its original H.R. 4849.
The bill requires the National Park Service to issue permits to commercial pack stock operations.
“We are very pleased that Rep. Devin Nunes, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were able to facilitate this legislation as rapidly as possible,” said Alan Hill of the Backcountry Horseman of America, one of the organizations that pushed hard for the bill.
Hill’s group worked with the Wilderness Society and the American Horse Council to move the legislation through the system.
The bill sped through the process in response to a court order to curtail commercial permits in the Park.
The order came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the High Sierra Hikers Association against the National Park Service. The U.S. District Court judge found that the NPS failed to define “the extent necessary” for commercial operations in the Park.
Arguments will be heard May 23. With the pack season just weeks away and no guarantee that a decision would be handed down on commercial permits, the legislative avenue was the best chance commercial operators had to gain access.
The changes to the bill all seem to be to the packers’ advantage. The Senate extended the provision’s sunset from two to four years and required that the NPS complete the Wilderness Stewardship Plan within three years. These changes guarantee that long-term solutions be arrived at while still allowing commercial operations in the Park.
The original House bill set limits for packer operations at 2011 levels, a shortened season due to heavy snowfall. This oversight was fixed in the Senate bill by eliminating the language, according to Sen. Boxer staffer Zachary Coile.
Other changes gave the NPS the discretion to manage stock use at levels deemed appropriate based on conditions in the Park, a compromise worked out with the Senate Energy an Natural Resource Committee.

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