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Backcountry regulations are getting ridiculous!

Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 8:30 pm
by mountaineer
Specifically, restrictions on campfires. I remember back in the "Good Old Days" there would be small pockets of wilderness outlined on the topo where fires were prohibited. These were, almost without exception, areas above 10,400' and very near the tree line for that area. The reason being that there were very few trees and idiots would start ripping branches off of standing trees for their fires.

Now, there are vast areas at and sometimes below 10,000' where fires are prohibited and downed vegetation is abundant. A perfect example of this is Eagle Lake in the Mineral King area. The ENTIRE Mineral King area is off-limits to campfires. Eagle Lake is covered on the entire west side by thick forest and there is so much downed wood there you can't hardly walk through the forest without having to hop over some of it.

What gives with these out-of-control restrictions? It is getting ridiculous.

Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 10:13 pm
by rightstar76
I can't stand it either, here a regulation, there a regulation. Seems like NPS has no problem finding something to protect and a regulation to go along with it. Perhaps the idea was to just regulate fires everywhere so there would be no confusion. That way if people ask where can they can have fires, then all the ranger has to do is say below such and such elevation or wherever the map isn't shaded gray, etc. Of course those areas are less than a third of the park and not where people go backpacking anyway, so it pretty much amounts to fires are not allowed here.

Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 10:25 pm
by mountaineer
The fact that I get charged $15 for a backcountry permit in Mineral King chaps my hide also. I didn't like it when the permit system was implemented way back when but sort of understood as I had seen what happens from overuse. But when they started charging for them I got a bit riled. Last year when I walked into the MK station and did my duty and asked for a permit I almost choked when they told me to fork over $15. Next time, I won't get the permit and just take my chances. :mad:

Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 11:18 pm
by SSSdave
It was just a few years ago when fire restrictions in SEKI were more generally defined simply by elevation. That has changed so they now have a considerable list of exceptions to their general 10,000 foot elevation campfire limit. See this link:

Thus they seem to be working towards fine tuning backcountry campfire limits depending on specific area factors. In Mineral King that has been set at 9,000 feet and I can speculate why that might be. First in the east part of the valley, there isn't much forest above 9,000 feet. Second a couple areas to the west above the road have recently burned that probably has them very woried because the forest there is extremely dense for miles with very poor access for fire fighting in case it does catch on fire. In fact the whole drive up from Three Rivers on the long very winding road would go up in a horrible inferno if it ever catches fire during dry late summer conditions. And that would be an especially horrible disaster because it is a very special forest with considerable numbers of scattered old growth giant sequoias groves. I for one feel the park service should go the extra distance to help preserve those precious groves.

The situation in the main Kaweah canyon to the north in Giant Forest and nearby groves is considerably different. They have been working the last couple decades to protect those forests in a number of ways including controlled burns. In fact if one hikes along the ridge west of Moro Rock, one will see long lengths of fire hoses spread out along the ridge line where they will make a stand in case a fire starts down in the deep canyon.

Most of the national forests and other parks are of course charging backcountry fees too though that has tended to be $5 or $10 elsewhere. That was decreed as policy a few years ago when all fees for visitor use like park entry and campground fees were raised. That was to better balance what had been a purely subsidized system of park budgeting to one where a token portion would also be paid by users. If one stays in one of the campgrounds, one might be paying that much every night which is fair because one does not use any fascilities in the backcountry but rather just supports the overhead of administering the backcountry permit system and backcountry ranger needs. Also when one drives up the road one doesn't have to pay the park entry fee at all that otherwise is charged when entering via SR198. Much worse to me is the gasoline cost of driving 500 miles roundtrip that is about $60.

Now I do have some complaints with the current system and that mainly has to do with forcing every person obtaining a backcountry permit to have a face to face chat from a ranger. And that includes those entering from outside the park through the national forests east of the crest in the Owens Valley. Even if one backpacks alot and knows the rules well. One can pick up a permit the day before but that is inconvenient for 9-5 m-f working people that would otherwise have to waste a day of vacation. However I did talk to the main person at SEKI involved in that policy and they are considering fine tuning that policy.


Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 11:24 pm
by frediver
Lots easier to control when all fires are banned. You are guilty no questions, proceed to fine schedule.

Posted: Sun Aug 26, 2007 6:37 am
by Charles2
One-size-fits-all regulations are a characteristic of bureaucracy the world over. It is an easy and relatively equitable, but mindless, way to regulate the public. Other good examples of such rules are found when dealing with the IRS, the BIA, the FBI, the VA, Social Security, most hospitals, the folks who issue building permits and any police department.

There is a segment of society that just loves to make rules. There is another segment that just lives to enforce these rules, whether they make sense or not (I'm not here to help, I'm here to enforce the rules :mad: ). I have read that the Chinese originally developed bureaucacy but we Americans have certainly improved on the original model :) .

Wilderness Waiver?

Posted: Sun Aug 26, 2007 8:11 am
by Strider
Hard to know where to draw the line. The main reason I go up there is to get away from rules, signs, and beeping plastic things. However, the environment could not withstand total anarchy.

Posted: Sun Aug 26, 2007 8:24 am
by Telkwa
This conversation appears to be simmering down so I thought I'd poke it with a stick :D
How about places where your activity is strictly spelled out - no tents, cooking, or other activity within x feet of the waterways, but the freakin free-ranging cattle are using the creeks as their bathroom/mud wallow?

Please discuss ;)

Posted: Sun Aug 26, 2007 9:26 am
by rightstar76
The NPS and USFS always have a quick line for that one. They will rattle off some scientific speak why it's not harmful for cattle to defecate in the meadow and streams. I think it's because they don't want to admit they're getting $$$ from the owners of the cattle from leasing/permits kind of a double standard don't you think?

Posted: Sun Aug 26, 2007 12:49 pm
by Charles2
Rightstar, I am not aware of any NPS operation in the western US where cattle grazing is permitted. USFS and BLM, yes, but Park Service, I don't think so. I stand willing to be corrected.