Where to send comments
Comments must be sent by Nov. 1 to: email@example.com, or Ranger Michael C. Liu, Methow Valley Ranger District, 24 W. Chewuch Road, Winthrop, WA 98862.
WINTHROP — Guides who use horses, mules and llamas to take people into wilderness areas provide a valuable service to people who don’t have the knowledge or physical ability to go on their own, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest says.
The agency this week recommended issuing 10-year permits to seven commercial wilderness guides who use stock, but to limit their commercial operations based on past use. The permits would be issued to seven outfitters who currently have guide services that operate on the Methow Valley, Tonasket and Chelan ranger districts, including the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth wilderness areas, and other nearby national forest lands.
The newly released draft environmental impact statement does not affect pack and saddle guides operating on other parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said Methow Valley District Ranger Michael Liu.
Only about 2 percent of visits to the Pasayten or Lake Chelan-Sawtooth wilderness areas are made by people using a pack-guide service, he said.
Liu said the district looked at each outfitter’s historic use to determine how many clients they can take into the wilderness and surrounding forest each year.
The district’s proposal — or preferred alternative — would allow a total of 4,620 service days, with 2,700 of them in the two wilderness areas. Each outfitter is allocated a certain number of days in specific parts of the forest, based on that outfitter’s highest use in the past five years, which will be re-evaluated every five years. A service day equates to one client spending one day with a guide.
The proposal also creates a pool of days that outfitters can use if they run out of days, in order to provide for a modest amount of growth, according to the draft document.
Outfitters have been waiting for the past 10 years for a decision by the Forest Service on getting long-term permits. The guides were previously issued five-year permits, but the Methow Valley Ranger District determined in the early 1990s it needed a thorough environmental analysis before increasing that to 10 years. Guides have received one-year permits since then.
At least one Mazama outfitter who’s been waiting for a long-term permit says he’s not happy with the outcome.
“President Obama is trying to reunite people with the outdoors, yet the Forest Service is doing everything they can to cap it,” Aaron Burkhart said Thursday.
Burkhart owns and operates Early Winters Outfitting. He said packing guides have been using these wilderness areas for more than 50 years, and he sees no need to require an EIS, when other national forests have not.
He said the Forest Service’s preferred option does not allow enough room for growth. “Ask a businessman in Twisp or Winthrop if he wants to continue to serve only so many dinners, and after that, shut down,” he said.
Burkhart also said that one of the alternatives — which is not proposed by the Forest Service — would eliminate pack and saddle guide services in the area, despite a long history of use in this area. “This is not about re-issuing permits,” he said. “This is about starting a war between people who do not want any outfitting, any commercial activities, and people who use the services.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512