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Big Bend National Park Invites Comments on Wilderness and Backcountry Management

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Offline mule ears

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While looking for the actual Backcountry Closure press release that Jim previously alerted us to I ran across this from today also.

Quote
Date: May 1, 2018
Contact: Nadine Youssef-Hatch, 432-477-1151
Big Bend National Park is seeking input to update the 1995 Backcountry Management Plan.  This document directs park management on wilderness and backcountry use topics, including backpacking, primitive car camping, backcountry use limits, and other considerations. 
 
This plan requires periodic updating to make sure it fits the current needs of the park, which has seen rapidly increasing visitor use and changing use patterns in recent years.  Please note that front country spaces, such as developed campgrounds, visitor centers, and paved roads are not included in Backcountry Management Plans.
 
The plan is being prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.  The 1995 Plan and associated documents are available for review and download at the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment web site, http://parkplanning.nps.gov/bibe. The NPS prefers comments be submitted in writing on the same site.  However, comments may be submitted by email to: bibe_planning@nps.gov; by mail to: Superintendent, PO Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX  79834, or in writing at public meetings.  Comments will be accepted during a 45-day public scoping period, between May 5 and June 18, 2018.
 
Public meetings will be held at the Brewster County Multi-Purpose Facility in Study Butte on May 8, and at the Sul Ross State University Morgan Conference Center in Alpine on May 9.  During these meetings, members of the public and stakeholders can learn more about the plan, ask questions of park staff, and make written suggestions and comments.  Both meetings will begin at 6 pm and last one hour.
 
The park encourages individuals, partners, and organizations to add their perspective and input to assist park management with their planning decisions.

Here is a link to the project page with the 1995 management plan.  Unfortunately other than the 23 year old plan there is no information as to what they are thinking.  This makes me very uncomfortable as to what they might come up with.  Anyone going to be in the area for either of the planned public meetings?  We only have 6 weeks to give input. 
« Last Edit: May 01, 2018, 04:14:46 PM by mule ears »
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Offline mule ears

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Haven't read through all of the 1995 plan but I already see this is our opportunity to push for El Campo to come back or another computerized system (page 19, #2).  My other thoughts are to push back on bear cans in the lower desert and any kind of restrictions on using natural water sources. 

More to come...
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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Haven't read through all of the 1995 plan but I already see this is our opportunity to push for El Campo to come back or another computerized system (page 19, #2).  My other thoughts are to push back on bear cans in the lower desert and any kind of restrictions on using natural water sources. 

More to come...

Agreed! I just sped-read through it and those would be my top three points, as well.


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Offline mule ears

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Still studying but in 1995 they said they were going to make designated campsites in the Mule Ears zone (like in the Chisos) and 3 new road side campsites along the Rosillos road but never did.

The backcountry use numbers in 1994 were the highest ever recorded at 54K but after that it dropped to a low of 15K in 2012 but have rebounded to 42K last year.  About half are roadside campsite use and the rest backpackers.
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Offline mule ears

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Here is the site to make comments on the plan.  We only have 40 days left to make comments.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline ZachTeich

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I don't know if this makes any sense or not, but here was my suggestion that I left on the NPS website:

I would like to see the addition of an online permit system for zone camping.  The idea would be to save time on both ends -visitor and park staff.  For areas outside of the Outer Mt. Loop system (and maybe even include this too?), allow people to go online before they visit the park, fill out their info, and print their permit.  When they reach the park their permit is already taken care of.  They can do their first day's activities, and/or then park where they need to, leave a copy of the permit in the car, and go zone camp according to the already established rules for doing so. 

Again, this would save time on both ends.

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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I gave them my 2 cents. In addition to commenting on an online permit system and bear cans, I suggested that the Elephant Tusk trail (north) be upgraded from a primitive trail to a minor use trail, and maintained as such, and that the Smoky Creek trail (north), which is currently classified as minor use, be maintained as such.

I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline elhombre

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SPEAK UP or SHUT UP!
« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2018, 08:38:14 AM »
Don't forget the stupid rule about no food in the most frequently used FOOD bear boxes.  And why isn't there another bear box at Homer Wilson?

Boaters are required to show their emergency items when getting a river permit, why aren't backpackers/ car campers required to show their toilet kits?  Poop happens, and it's all over the campsites.

Bringing back El Campo will speed the permit system up.  Especially if they don't require a Ranger to issue the permit at only one location.  Volunteers are apparently good enough for most things, (like picking up poop at campsites in the Chisos), but somehow not issuing back country permits?

Reject a reservation system for back country sites/ zone camping.  Too many people already leave early and their sites go unused.  Look at the Grand Canyon as the example of how people simply don't show up and valuable slots go unused.

Have published benchmarks that must be met that trigger the closures of parts of the park.  For example, how much rain must not fall before they decide to close campsites?  How much rain must fall to open them back up?  Remember these other closures??  Elephant tusk zone camping closed because a car window got smashed.  All Glenn Springs and Pine Canyon car campsites closed because one jack-hole left his food out and a bear got into it at Glenn Springs.  The entire Dodson trail was closed because the bear boxes at Homer got full.  The entire Chisos was closed to camping because a bear eating the Pinon nuts on the trail scared some hikers because he wouldn't move.  The peregrine falcon is no longer on the endangered species list but they close half the Chisos during nesting season.  When was the last time this policy was re-evaluated?

Now the threat of requiring bear vaults in the back country with ZERO reported cases of bears getting into backpackers food.  They say it is a good preventive measure because they don't want the same thing that happens in Yosemite to happen here.  Look around rangers, you see any waterfalls running off the Chisos like they do in the Yosemite valley?  No, because BB is a desert, and animals that live in the desert are different than the animals in a mountain valley.  For example, rangers want to kill the elk in BB, but not in the Yosemite valley.

Finally, why isn't there a pit toilet on the South Eastern corner of the Chisos?  What are there, maybe 6 campsites within 10 minutes of each other?  With 2 of them being group sites?

The Big Bend Chat community needs to step up and write a comment.  We are the ones who go there many times a year.  We see the stupidity on a regular basis and know that the "problems" they have are NOT one time events.  This is the same situation where "If you don't vote, then you can't complain!"  These are some of my concerns, I bet y'all have some good ones too.  Let them hear about them all.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 08:44:54 AM by elhombre »
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Offline mule ears

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Re: SPEAK UP or SHUT UP!
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2018, 09:09:09 AM »
Don't forget the stupid rule about no food in the most frequently used FOOD bear boxes.  And why isn't there another bear box at Homer Wilson?

Boaters are required to show their emergency items when getting a river permit, why aren't backpackers/ car campers required to show their toilet kits?  Poop happens, and it's all over the campsites.

Bringing back El Campo will speed the permit system up.  Especially if they don't require a Ranger to issue the permit at only one location.  Volunteers are apparently good enough for most things, (like picking up poop at campsites in the Chisos), but somehow not issuing back country permits?

Reject a reservation system for back country sites/ zone camping.  Too many people already leave early and their sites go unused.  Look at the Grand Canyon as the example of how people simply don't show up and valuable slots go unused.

Have published benchmarks that must be met that trigger the closures of parts of the park.  For example, how much rain must not fall before they decide to close campsites?  How much rain must fall to open them back up?  Remember these other closures??  Elephant tusk zone camping closed because a car window got smashed.  All Glenn Springs and Pine Canyon car campsites closed because one jack-hole left his food out and a bear got into it at Glenn Springs.  The entire Dodson trail was closed because the bear boxes at Homer got full.  The entire Chisos was closed to camping because a bear eating the Pinon nuts on the trail scared some hikers because he wouldn't move.  The peregrine falcon is no longer on the endangered species list but they close half the Chisos during nesting season.  When was the last time this policy was re-evaluated?

Now the threat of requiring bear vaults in the back country with ZERO reported cases of bears getting into backpackers food.  They say it is a good preventive measure because they don't want the same thing that happens in Yosemite to happen here.  Look around rangers, you see any waterfalls running off the Chisos like they do in the Yosemite valley?  No, because BB is a desert, and animals that live in the desert are different than the animals in a mountain valley.  For example, rangers want to kill the elk in BB, but not in the Yosemite valley.

Finally, why isn't there a pit toilet on the South Eastern corner of the Chisos?  What are there, maybe 6 campsites within 10 minutes of each other?  With 2 of them being group sites?

The Big Bend Chat community needs to step up and write a comment.  We are the ones who go there many times a year.  We see the stupidity on a regular basis and know that the "problems" they have are NOT one time events.  This is the same situation where "If you don't vote, then you can't complain!"  These are some of my concerns, I bet y'all have some good ones too.  Let them hear about them all.

Good stuff el hombre, I hope you sent those comments and ideas in.
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Online Flash

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The comments shared so far are more or less good ones. However, I am not clear what is being asked for here nor what exactly is at stake. I kind of doubt this is an invitation to simply vent to my complaints and present my wishlist. Sounds like they are holding up the existing management plan and asking for comments? If the 1995 plan is acceptable and working, then they should not change it. Are there agendas awaiting a chance to be ramrodded through? I wonder if we might want to be careful what issues  we raise. How does the management plan differ from the compendium?  I'll get back to work now...

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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I tend to take a "don't poke the bear" approach, which aligns me fairly closely with Flash's comments above. I'm fairly happy with the system that's been in place for the last several years. That said, there's been one recent change, and there are at least two possible upcoming changes that I've heard rangers mention, that I'm no fan of.

1. The abandonment of the El Campo online permitting system is a step backwards. It wasn't perfect (screwed up for me a couple of times for reasons unknown) but it was a vast improvement over the old handwritten system that screwed up for me several times. My vote is for bringing it back and working to fix the very few glitches it had.

2. Several rangers have mentioned the possible mandating of bear canisters for ALL backcountry backpacking. This is of huge concern to me. The addition of two to five or even more pounds to a backpack load - plus the unwieldy bulk - is a real and onerous burden, especially on a long trip.  If conditions on the ground justified the mandate, I would (with regret) get behind it. But I don't see the need. I've spent dozens of days and nights in the Big Bend backcountry and, except for in the Chisos, I've NEVER encountered a bear. I've encountered plenty in the mountains, but the closest I've knowingly come to one in the desert was a fresh, warm scat near Pena Spring two years ago. Bears are down there in the desert - I've seen plenty of old scat and a few other backpackers have actually seen bears down there - but I DO NOT think the bears in the desert are interacting with humans. Unless the data confirms a sufficient number of negative interactions between bears and humans in the desert portions of Big Bend, I DO NOT think mandating the use of bear canisters is justified. The burden (and cost!) far outweighs the benefit. If such a mandate is put in place, I predict desert backcountry backpacking usage will plummet to shockingly low levels, consisting only of a few experienced, well-funded backpackers like me. Perhaps eventually, if the bear population rises and backcountry usage continues to increase, bear/human interactions will become a problem along the OML. But in the remoter sections of the park? Hard to imagine. And if these interactions do become a problem, I would hope seasonal applicability would be taken into account (probably zero need during denning season), and that Ursacks would be deemed an acceptable solution until proven otherwise. Ursacks are vastly less burdensome than even the lightest hard-sided bear canister, and have been shown to work perfectly well in the Sierras where bear interactions are a widespread and serious problem.

3. I've also heard at least one ranger predict that the drawing of drinking water from all backcountry water sources might soon be banned. This could effectively make most extended backcountry backpacking in Big Bend impossible, or at best, dependent upon a difficult, time-consuming placement of pre-positioned water caches near backcountry roads requiring high-clearance and perhaps even 4x4 vehicles.  If the NPS is looking to diversify its user base, this dang sure ain't the way to do it. Much like the mandate for bear canisters, I'd like to see the data justifying such a radical decision. Is there a documented problem at any water sources? If so, which ones, and how bad are the problems? Other than Upper Juniper Spring, Dodson Spring, Fresno Creek, and maybe Mule Ears Spring and the rain pools (NOT the pipe) in Boot Canyon, I doubt any others are experiencing problems. Carefully targeted restrictions may be justified, but I can't imagine a park-wide ban makes any kind of sense.

Those are my main concerns, and comments on these seem warranted, given known behavior and comments by BiBe rangers. The only other comment I might make is to echo Elhombre's concerns about backcountry toilet equipment. Poor toilet etiquette is a real problem anywhere in the park that receives a lot of day use, or is near any kind of road, or along the much-backpacked Chisos and OML. I'm all for backackers having to show their toilet kits and proving they know how to use them. And for the construction of another Chisos pit toilet near the far Southeast Rim.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 12:15:41 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline catz

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I really wish they would make the whole Rosillos area more accessible  by  creating a small designated camping area (with a bear box, naturally) and creating at least one trail and that would get you to the peak of the Rosillos.
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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I really wish they would make the whole Rosillos area more accessible  by  creating a small designated camping area (with a bear box, naturally) and creating at least one trail and that would get you to the peak of the Rosillos.

 :great:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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I tend to take a "don't poke the bear" approach, which aligns me fairly closely with Flash's comments above. I'm fairly happy with the system that's been in place for the last several years. That said, there's been one recent change, and there are at least two possible upcoming changes that I've heard rangers mention, that I'm no fan of.

1. The abandonment of the El Campo online permitting system is a step backwards. It wasn't perfect (screwed up for me a couple of times for reasons unknown) but it was a vast improvement over the old handwritten system that screwed up for me several times. My vote is for bringing it back and working to fix the very few glitches it had.

2. Several rangers have mentioned the possible mandating of bear canisters for ALL backcountry backpacking. This is of huge concern to me. The addition of two to five or even more pounds to a backpack load - plus the unwieldy bulk - is a real and onerous burden, especially on a long trip.  If conditions on the ground justified the mandate, I would (with regret) get behind it. But I don't see the need. I've spent dozens of days and nights in the Big Bend backcountry and, except for in the Chisos, I've NEVER encountered a bear. I've encountered plenty in the mountains, but the closest I've knowingly come to one in the desert was a fresh, warm scat near Pena Spring two years ago. Bears are down there in the desert - I've seen plenty of old scat and a few other backpackers have actually seen bears down there - but I DO NOT think the bears in the desert are interacting with humans. Unless the data confirms a sufficient number of negative interactions between bears and humans in the desert portions of Big Bend, I DO NOT think mandating the use of bear canisters is justified. The burden (and cost!) far outweighs the benefit. If such a mandate is put in place, I predict desert backcountry backpacking usage will plummet to shockingly low levels, consisting only of a few experienced, well-funded backpackers like me. Perhaps eventually, if the bear population rises and backcountry usage continues to increase, bear/human interactions will become a problem along the OML. But in the remoter sections of the park? Hard to imagine. And if these interactions do become a problem, I would hope seasonal applicability would be taken into account (probably zero need during denning season), and that Ursacks would be deemed an acceptable solution until proven otherwise. Ursacks are vastly less burdensome than even the lightest hard-sided bear canister, and have been shown to work perfectly well in the Sierras where bear interactions are a widespread and serious problem.

3. I've also heard at least one ranger predict that the drawing of drinking water from all backcountry water sources might soon be banned. This could effectively make most extended backcountry backpacking in Big Bend impossible, or at best, dependent upon a difficult, time-consuming placement of pre-positioned water caches near backcountry roads requiring high-clearance and perhaps even 4x4 vehicles.  If the NPS is looking to diversify its user base, this dang sure ain't the way to do it. Much like the mandate for bear canisters, I'd like to see the data justifying such a radical decision. Is there a documented problem at any water sources? If so, which ones, and how bad are the problems? Other than Upper Juniper Spring, Dodson Spring, Fresno Creek, and maybe Mule Ears Spring and the rain pools (NOT the pipe) in Boot Canyon, I doubt any others are experiencing problems. Carefully targeted restrictions may be justified, but I can't imagine a park-wide ban makes any kind of sense.

Those are my main concerns, and comments on these seem warranted, given known behavior and comments by BiBe rangers. The only other comment I might make is to echo Elhombre's concerns about backcountry toilet equipment. Poor toilet etiquette is a real problem anywhere in the park that receives a lot of day use, or is near any kind of road, or along the much-backpacked Chisos and OML. I'm all for backackers having to show their toilet kits and proving they know how to use them. And for the construction of another Chisos pit toilet near the far Southeast Rim.

I have had the same comments made to me by probably the same permitting ranger and I have the same objections to them. 

The comments shared so far are more or less good ones. However, I am not clear what is being asked for here nor what exactly is at stake. I kind of doubt this is an invitation to simply vent to my complaints and present my wishlist. Sounds like they are holding up the existing management plan and asking for comments? If the 1995 plan is acceptable and working, then they should not change it. Are there agendas awaiting a chance to be ramrodded through? I wonder if we might want to be careful what issues  we raise. How does the management plan differ from the compendium?  I'll get back to work now...

That is the question, what are they proposing that might be new or changes to the 1995 plan?  Otherwise all we have to work with is the 1995 plan and improvements that we might make to it or to the current way it is being managed.
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Offline Hang10er

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I'm buying stock in bear canister companies.

 


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