Sponsored by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Stanford Law School


At this conference, participants representing a balanced mix of land managers, planners, scientists, policymakers, environmental groups, commercial outfitters and trade associations engaged in a constructive conversation about meeting the legal, scientific and policy challenges of commercial outfitting in wilderness areas, with pack stock in the Sierra Nevada as a case study.


Regulating commercial outfitting on public land is a highly contentious issue in the United States. The struggle is particularly acute in federally designated wilderness and wild and scenic river corridors, where relatively undisturbed scenic beauty and a rustic experience are highly prized.

Commercial outfitting - including guiding for hunting, fishing, climbing, river rafting, snowmobiling, wildlife viewing and other forms of nature tourism - is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the U.S. Conflicts over how to regulate these activities have recently erupted in the courts, resulting in costly and inefficient planning processes stalled by litigation. These conflicts revolve around issues of wilderness preservation, endangered species protection, watershed protection, drinking water contamination, job loss and economic decline in rural areas.

In part, it is the scarcity of unspoiled public lands that drives their increasing commodification and the conflicts over their use. Disputes over commercial pack stock in high-elevation meadows have resulted in protracted and high-profile lawsuits against the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service in Montana, Washington, Idaho, California and throughout the mountain West. Litigation has created uncertainty among agency managers regarding what policies and procedures to follow, and how best to design scientific studies that lead to the non-arbitrary management of commercial stock in wilderness areas.

Uncommon Dialogue

There is a great need for productive dialogue and collaboration on this controversial issue. The presence of diverse stakeholders in an intimate environment encouraged constructive dialogue among parties with diverging interests, including agency managers, academic researchers, commercial groups, lawyers and non-profit environmental organizations.

The conference featured a review of innovative efforts from across the U.S. for resolving conflicts over commercial use in other wilderness areas without litigation. National park and forest administrators offered their visions on emerging solutions and practical aspects of wilderness planning and management.

Conference Objectives 

  • Initiate collaborations to aid in formulating commercial use plans in wilderness; 
  • Present results of studies on impacts of commercial outfitting in Yosemite and other key places;
  • Present potential legal framework for determining the "extent necessary" for commercial activities to realize recreational or other wilderness purposes;
  • Cultivate interest at Stanford in conducting research on public land planning and resource protection;
  • Prioritize recommendations for further research that reflect the concerns of agency staff, researchers, NGOs and commercial outfitters; and
  • Develop stakeholder engagement strategies that diminish conflict among user groups and provide alternative dispute-resolution strategies that avoid litigation.