methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Packer Permits Appealed
Both sides object

The U.S. Forest Service decision to issue 10-year permits and place new requirements on pack and saddle-stock outfitters who use the Pasayten and Chelan-Sawtooth wilderness areas is on hold because of two appeals.

The challenges came from a group of local outfitters who want some restrictions removed and from Wilderness Watch, a national environmental organization based in Montana, that wants the decision rescinded and a new Environmental Impact Statement prepared, according to the appeal documents.

The outfitters, who have designated destination camps in the wilderness to which they take clients, are working under one-year permits. Their appeal was filed by Karen Budd-Falen from the Budd-Falen Law Offices in Cheyenne, Wy., on behalf of five outfitters based in the Methow Valley.

photoRiders in the Pasayten Wilderness high country. Photo by Kit Cramer.

Among other things, the packers want two requirements removed from the decision—one governing the size of “barren core areas,” the other requiring a written camp management plan. If the two requirements stand, they are asking that the decision be amended to provide specific “objective standards” pertaining to oversight. (The term “barren core” refers to the bare ground where vegetation has been worn away by animal and human traffic.)

Jennifer Zbyszewski (pa-SHEF-ski), recreation, wilderness and facilities program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District, told Grist an informal meeting with the outfitters is scheduled for June 10 to discuss the appeal and “see if they can withdraw it.” If not, a packet will be prepared for Kent Connaughton, the regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region in Portland, who “has to decide if he’s going to affirm or remand the decision,” Zbyszewski said.

The local outfitters appealing the decision are Brian Varrelman, owner of Whislin’ Pine Ranch and Sawtooth Outfitters in Pateros; Aaron Lee and Judy Burkhart, owners of Early Winters Outfitting & Saddle Co. in Mazama; Steve Darwood, owner of Cascade Wilderness Outfitters in Carlton and a partner with his son Jess Darwood in North Cascade Outfitters in Twisp; and Ryan Surface, owner of North Cascade Safari in Twisp.

The Wilderness Watch appeal was signed by Gary Macfarlane, a board member who lives in Idaho. The group maintains that the decision violates the Wilderness Act of 1964 and ensuing case law, and that parts of the decision are based on faulty data.

In addition to a new EIS, the organization is asking that two amendments to the Okanogan Forest Plan in the current decision be removed. Those amendments allow the outfitters to use, but not expand, existing campsites and to use existing campsites within 200 feet of meadows, lakes and streams. The appeal also asks for an alternative “to limit all stock use and party size to 12 heartbeats.”

The disputed decision was issued in March by Rebecca Lockett Heath, forest supervisor for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

Zbyszewski explained that Connaughton, as regional forester, will put together a review team of specialists to evaluate the decision and the appeals. “We’ve been going through the [Wilderness Watch] appeal point-by-point” to alert the review team to where in the decision documents specifics are addressed, she said. That packet was shipped to the regional office May 29 and followed an informal meeting with Wilderness Watch at which there was no resolution of issues.

If the outfitters appeal is not withdrawn, the same procedure will apply—a point-by-point local analysis will be sent to the regional office for the review team that reports to Connaughton. Her guess is that he will make a decision in “about 30 days” once the review is complete.

“If we’re affirmed on both appeals, we’ll wait 15 days and issue 10-year permits,” Zbyszewski said. Connaughton also could remand the decision in which case he will “give us guidance on what to do,” she said.

Read an earlier Grist story on the decision here >>


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