Hold your horses!

posted Apr 6, 2012, 7:28 AM by Paul Wagner
This story in the Fresno Bee was brought to our attention:
Here's the headline and first few sentences:
Judge suspends horse packing in national parks

Says packing in Kings Canyon, Sequoia violates federal law.

By Marek Warszawski - The Fresno Bee

By Marek Warszawski

Wednesday, Apr. 04, 2012 | 11:56 PM Modified Thu, Apr 05, 2012 10:02 AM

The High Sierra Hikers Association has an established history of suing to protect wilderness areas. The 600-member nonprofit successfully sued the Sierra and Inyo national forests in 2000.

That court ruling resulted in new mandates for commercial horse packers that effectively trimmed trailhead quotas by 20% in both the John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas, which are managed by the Forest Service.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/04/04/2788652_p2/national-parks-horse-packing-on.html#storylink=cpy
Our concern with horses in the backcountry has less to do with the droppings they leave on the trail, and more to do with other impacts.   We have encountered many of the usual horsepacking camps in the parts of the SIerra we love.  They are heavily used, with barren, compacted earth, no living vegetation, and often will idiotic "camp furniture" as well.  The furniture is the fault of the people, but that compacted earth with no vegetation is pure horse damage. 
In Emigrant WIlderness the whole north side of Grouse Lake has been turned into what looks like a parking lot for a car campgound by horse packers.  They literally ride there every day, tether the horses there so people can "enjoy" the lake, and the ride home again.  In no way is it wilderness.  (Camp Lake in that same area is currently closed to camping to allow it to recover from habitat damage, and Grouse Lake should be closed as well! )
And if you do the math, a single horse on the trail with its heavy weight and small footprint does 20 or thirty times more damage than a human hiker.  If we limit trail use to a certain number of hikers per day (which we do via quotas) then we should certainly limit horses in the same way.  Currently, those quotas are left up to the discretion of the owner of the pack station.
Where hikers over use an area, that area gets closed and protected to allow it to recover.  But because pack stations always operation out of the same location, this doesn't seem true for them.  The damage that these animals do by repeated use on meadows and loose rock trails is huge, and that trail damage never seems to get repaired effectively. 
We are not philosophically opposed to horses in the High Sierra.  There is a long history of horse riding in the mountains, and these animals do allow access by people ( and voters! ) who might not be physically able to enjoy the wilderness.  But they should be under the same regulations and restrictions that limit the activities and impacts of rest of us