AMERICAN HORSE COUNCIL — MAY 2, 2012 — Last week, Congress passed the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Backcountry Access Act, introduced by Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA). The bill directs the National Park Service (NPS) to issue permits to commercial horse and mule packers to operate in the wilderness areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Due to a lawsuit the NPS had not yet issued permits for the 2012 season.
“Commercial packers have been taking visitors into these parks for decades, allowing thousands of Americans to experience the backcountry of these parks,” said American Horse Council (AHC) Legislative Director Ben Pendergrass. “Without the leadership of Congressman Nunes who introduced and quickly passed this bill and the help of Senators Boxer and Feinstein Americans may have lost the opportunity to have this fantastic experience. This bill also saved the livelihoods of the commercial pack operators in the park and the jobs of their employees.”
Congressional action was needed due to a lawsuit filed by the High Sierra Hikers Association against the NPS concerning its management of commercial packer access to the wilderness areas of the parks. In January, a federal judge ruled that the NPS had violated the Wilderness act because it had not adequately addressed commercial stock use in a 2007 park management plan. The NPS then decided not to issue any permits to commercial packers for the 2012 season until the court case was settled.
The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to continue to issue permits to commercial packers to operate in the parks and complete a new wilderness stewardship plan within 3 years. The NPS will now have the time it needs to address the judge’s concerns in a new management plan without interrupting the operations of the commercial packers in the parks.
“Preserving commercial and private equestrian access to wilderness is important not just to horse owners, but for everyone who does not have the physical ability to hike in the backcountry and for the communities that rely on jobs created by tourists traveling to our national parks and forests to have these experiences,” said Pendergrass. “We are grateful to Congressman Nunes for taking action when this access was threatened.”