SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A hiking group says that a new government management plan would illegally enhance damaging pack stock runs through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Park management, aided by federal land agencies, has tried to circumvent limits on horse activity in the parks since an initial management plan in 1971, the hikers say.
The commercial saddle tours hurt the parks, especially in sensitive higher-elevation areas, by causing soil compaction and erosion, bacterial water pollution, degraded water quality that harms fish and amphibians, and aesthetic impacts including too many flies, the High Sierra Hikers Association claims in Federal Court.
The group sued in 1994 over horse use in the parks. The settlement required park managers to issue an environmental impact statement if they intended to increase the amount of stock allowed in the park.
Park managers said in 2002 that they would begin a full environmental analysis, then reneged, the hikers claim.
A 2007 final management plan purports to authorize only current pack stock levels, but provides direction to expand pack stocking, including constructing new buildings, campgrounds and trails to support the horse excursions. The 2007 plan failed to adequately analyze environmental impacts and all available alternatives, the hikers claim.
Delicate high-altitude meadows are particularly at risk of trampling, the group says. Meadow overgrazing has been documented, and streams and lakes are already polluted with E. coli as a result of grazing.
Wilderness areas in the parks constitute one-third of all the wilderness in the central and southern Sierra Nevadas, and include Mt. Whitney and the headwaters of several rivers.
Threatened and endangered species such as the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the mountain yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad are adversely affected by the horse trips, the hikers say.
Stock packing, though historically important for miners and explorers, has "long since faded into history," according to the complaint.
The High Sierra Hikers Association, represented by Alison Tucher of San Francisco, says that the area's "solitude and stunning beauty" will be damaged for "generations to come" if the court does not set aside the plan.
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