BCHA Gets the Job Done with Low Impact on the Land

The Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA) strives to ensure that everything the organization does has the lowest impact possible on the land and the environment. That’s one reason the group's members love horses and mules. Horse power is irreplaceable in the many public lands where motorized use is prohibited, such as the Bass Lake area in California's Sierra National Forest, and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests where the endangered woodland caribou makes a last stand.

Places like these need protecting, but also require occasional trail improvements. The predicament is easily solved with the use of the original horse power, the BCHA said.

Refurnishing an Historic Structure

The Selkirk Valley Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Idaho recently used horses and mules to complete two packing assignments for the U.S. Forest Service in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests without violating the forests' “no motorized use” rule.

West Fork Cabin, a historic reconstructed smoke-jumpers’ cabin, sits in a small meadow about a mile-and-a-half from a forest service road. Originally built in 1931, it is open to the public for shelter and overnight stays. Because it sees heavy use, many things needed to be replaced.

Members of BCHA's Selkirk Valley Chapter gathered at the trailhead and secured the items needed for renovations on their pack stock. One pack animal carried a 150-pound wood stove and 150-pounds of water on the other side to even out the load. Another carried bunk bed frames, while two others carried three mattresses. The last carried a variety of miscellaneous items.

When the motley-looking crew arrived at West Fork Cabin, the surprised resident campers helped crew replace the old items with the new. After a brief visit, they packed the horses and mules with the old items and returned to the trailhead, accomplishing an essential job with a minimum impact on the land.

In the Name of Science

When the Sandpoint Ranger District in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests received a grant to conduct a study on white bark pine on Keno Mountain, they asked the Selkirk Valley Chapter to pack in and out the necessary equipment. In July, they packed all the gear to the top of Keno Mountain. After equipment was put in place to harvest pinecone seeds in the trees, Selkirk Valley chapter packed the gear out. After the harvest, they will repeat the process to bring down the equipment and harvested seeds.

Having a Blast

Partnering with the Bass Lake Ranger District, the Sierra Freepackers Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of California repaired a section of the Spring Cove Trail at Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest. Their goal was to bring it up to acceptable standards by widening the trail, which required blasting out some rock that made the trail unsafe for horses.

The Sierra Freepackers used mules to pack in a variety of equipment needed for the project including a specialized pionjar drill, Boulder Busters, and hand tools. The pionjar is a versatile gas powered tool used to drill holes in the rock. Water was added for expansion and the Boulder Buster inserted. A mat was placed over the blast holes for safety and to keep flying debris to a minimum. As rock was broken up, BCHA members cleared the pieces from the trail.

After the project was completed, two BCHA members came back a couple of days later and rode the trail with some novice riders to evaluate the work from horseback. The trail was successfully improved without causing damage to the surrounding land.

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