[pct-l] Yosemite Wilderness Scoping Webinar Summary

Herb Stroh HStroh at sjmslaw.com
Thu Dec 24 11:15:50 CST 2015

Below is a post I just put up on the Yahoo JMT site. It concerns the development of a new Wilderness plan for Yosemite National Park. While not directly a PCT topic, I am sure some readers here will be interested in the plan. I am urging the hiker community to weigh in on this new wilderness plan, as it will impact us for a generation. Thanks.
Summary Wilderness Plan Scoping Webinar
Presenters: Kathleen Morse, Chief Strategic Planning Coordinator; Ed Dunlavey, Wilderness Manager, Kristen ??, Mark Fincher Wilderness Specialist.
Yosemite is updating its Wilderness management plan, which was written in 1989. I attended a scoping Webinar on 12/15. While there was much presented, the focus of my summary is on topics of interest to hikers.
40% of all land designated "Wilderness" is under the management of the National Park Service. In fact, 94% of Yosemite is designated "Wilderness." The largest stretch of roadless terrain in the lower 48 is in the Sierra.
Wilderness designation is aimed at preserving natural ecosystems, to keep them "largely unaffected by modern civilization." Such lands should remain undeveloped, with minimum structures or non-natural features. They should also provide solitude and/or primitive recreation.
There has been a dramatic increase in use and focus of use. The book/movie "Wild" and social media have popularized certain areas and attracted more users. Use has changed, e.g., trail runners, fast-packing, etc. Pack/stock use has generally had minimal management in the past.
The updated wilderness plan will look at issues of use and consider changes. This initial scoping phase is to gather public comment. The next will be a "preliminary alternatives" phase in which ideas are presented and further public comment generated, and will be rolled out later in 2016. The next phase is a "draft analysis" that will be released in 2017.
Q & A:
The bulk of the meeting was question and answer. In summary, the majority of the questions concerned commercial use, stock/pack management, the High Sierra camps, and to a lesser extent trail management issues. As to questions concerning the High Sierra camps, the response was that their use will be examined and considered "just like we did in the River plan with River corridor activates." This was explained to mean that a range of possibilities from dismantling the camps to simply reducing their footprint will be considered. Likewise, stock use will be examined to see if there should be greater management and control. Guiding and other commercial use will also be evaluated for increased management in the new plan. The plan will also evaluate trail management such as use, permitting, maintenance, installing/destructing existing trails, and overall management.
I asked if the plan would look at management of aircraft noise, similar to what has been accomplished in the Grand Canyon. The response was no, Yosemite's legislation allowing park management to restrict air traffic sunseted years ago and will not be part of this planning process.
Since social media is getting part of the blame for current usage patterns, I asked on behalf of our Yahoo JMT gang if Wilderness managers intend to utilize social media to better present their message on trail use and management. Interestingly, the comment from Mr. Dunleavy was that they were "successful in lobbying groups" when we "rolled out exit quotas for Donahue." While I agree useful info has been passed through social media, I would not characterize the Donahue exit embargo as successful lobbying of the plan. We were told the reasoning, sure, but it was fait accompli. The issue in my mind is not disseminating information via social media, but will managers use social media to help inform the plans they are creating? Why not "crowd source" the problem among a user group that collectively has hiked thousands of miles in and around Yosemite and will be most affected by the rules? Maybe exit quotas are the right answer-but maybe not, as they can be as easily defeated as entry quotas were. Rather than pit users against the managers, let's work together to formulate a use plan that works and has immediate buy-in. Ok, enough soap box.
Questions were raised regarding the data available to managers and what they would be looking at. Per the panel, there is very good data regarding commercial use, as they know night be night where they are staying. Private use generally just monitors trailhead entry and is not as detailed.
My Conclusions:
The Wilderness Stewardship Plan will impact use of Yosemite for many years to come, so we as the hiker community need to offer our perspective. Whether you like or don't like the existing trail management system, the High Sierra Camps, pack animal/commercial use, the existing plan for trail maintenance, etc., now is the time to voice your feelings. The initial comment period closes January 29.
The preferred method of comment is online, here: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=69178
Future public meetings describing the planning process are calendared here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/meetingNotices.cfm?projectID=47112
Scoping materials can be found here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=347&projectID=47112&documentID=69178
I believe it critical that hikers establish themselves as a large and vocal constituency during this initial planning process. I urge you to get your comments in and show that hikers care about and  want to shape the future Wilderness Stewardship plan.

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