Wilderness Watch’s Central Sierra Chapter has long been concerned with the Forest Service’s (FS) unwillingness to take action to protect the Emigrant Wilderness in the High Sierra from overuse and abuse, to meet the standards in its forest plan, or to meet legal requirements in administering its commercial packstation permits.
In order to test these concerns and a gain a more complete picture of the agency’s monitoring program, Wilderness Watch, in August 2014, sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Stanislaus National Forest requesting information on recreation use monitoring and outfitter guide permit administration for the Emigrant Wilderness. The FS notified us that it would not release any of the requested information pertaining to recreation use monitoring. Wilderness Watch appealed this denial to the FS’s FOIA appeals office, but we received no determination on our appeal, even after multiple requests. The FS was violating several FOIA provisions, and the recreation use monitoring information was needed to investigate concerns that overuse was significantly degrading some areas of the Wilderness. So, in March 2015, Wilderness Watch filed suit in Federal District Court to force the agency to comply with the FOIA. After we filed suit, the FS suddenly changed course and released the recreation use monitoring information. We are in the process of reviewing that information so stay tuned.
The Freedom of Information Act provides the public with an essential transparency mechanism for understanding Federal agency operations and ensuring that Federal agencies are held accountable for their operations. Wilderness Watch regularly uses FOIA requests to seek information about agency administration of Wilderness, and we will continue to press for agency transparency and accountability through the use of the Freedom of Information Act, the provisions and spirit of the Wilderness Act, and through the court system when necessary.