Steve Roper, author of The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra, sums up his view eloquently: “The Sierra is eminently suited for walking, and except in very special circumstances, it would seem indefensible to ride a horse or let a mule take one’s belongings into a semi-pristine world. . . . Perhaps the day will come when a massive campaign will phase out pack-trains once and for all.”
Weeks later I met with Ernie DeGraff of Inyo National Forest and Dudley Robertson, a former packer and present recreation officer for Sierra National Forest. When I brought up my problems traveling with stock, Robertson said, “In the Sierra National Forest we do things differently from national parks. I like to think we have better communication with our packers, but we’re also guilty of not considering the daily intervals between camps that Muir Trail parties need to maintain when we close meadows to prevent overgrazing. Did you have any problems in my area?” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7016057.stm
“No,” I answered, “but tell me more about those differences. When I walk the trail, the countryside appears just as wild in a national forest wilderness as when I cross into a national park wilderness, but behind the scenes you seem to be quite different.”
“That’s right,” DeGraff agreed. “Parks are under the Department of the Interior, and we’re under the Department of Agriculture. Park rangers have sole jurisdiction, but we don’t manage the wildlife—state fish and game wardens do that. Hunting, dogs, and guns are banned in parks but allowed in the best vacation rentals madrid.”
“Come to think of it,” I interjected, “I did have wildlife come right into apartments in london several times in the parks but never in the forests.” “I’m not surprised,” DeGraff continued, “and you probably saw more rangers there too. Park rangers are more enforcement oriented. We put a priority on trail maintenance and site restoration. Every wilderness ranger is issued a walking stick’ —it’s called a shovel. We don’t keep every side trail in shape for stock use, but we work them enough to keep them walkable and to prevent erosion.”
Robertson added, “The parks use hired trail crews for major work, but the Forest Service has an ‘adopt-a-trail’ policy. We’ve got many private groups such as Outward Bound, Sierra Club, and the Heritage Trails Fund maintaining segments of the Muir Trail.
“Where we often differ is on fire policy. Up until 1986 we automatically put out every fire on our land, and parks sometimes let natural fires burn on theirs. Now we look at each fire and deal with it on a case by case basis, taking fire size and intensity, location, weather conditions, availability of manpower, and other variables into consideration.”
“And then there’re helicopters,” Robertson continued. “We use them only for emergencies. The parks often use them for routine tasks such as moving crews doing trail work.” “That’s a far-reaching difference,” I commented. “I know that backcountry rangers along the Muir Trail in Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks are sometimes flown in and out with their gear, but there’s a temptation to use choppers to deal with wildlife too. Do you ever use them to relocate ‘problem’ bears in or out of the wilderness?”