What is the Pack Stock Center of Excellence?

The Center of Excellence concept has been successfully applied to a number of programs throughout the agency. It is generally defined as a team of people (part-time or full time) that promote collaboration and use best practices around a specific focus area to drive business results.
A Center of Excellence provides:

  • Support for their area of focus through services and subject matter experts.

  • Guidance through development of standards, methodologies, tools and knowledge repositories

  • Shared learning through training and certifications, skill assessments, and team building.

  • Governance through allocating limited resources (money, people, etc.) across all their possible projects to ensure agency investment in the most valuable projects and create economies of scale for their service offering.

Pack Stock Center of Excellence Mission Statement:

Provide regional coordination for the efficient utilization of pack stock program resources to support the efforts of wilderness managers in preserving wilderness character, and to ensure ongoing capability for use of primitive skills and tools, by offering high quality, hands-on pack stock and primitive skills education, practical experience, community outreach, and field-going services in support of fire, ecosystem, and wilderness management.


While pack stock use boasts a long history within the Forest Service, it is becoming a vanishing skill. In the early 1900s, the USFS Pacific Southwest Region (R5) had a flourishing stock program. At that time, approximately 2,000 head of stock and more than 100 packers comprised a program that regularly supported crews in both front and backcountry settings. Today, however, the R5 program includes only approximately 120 animals and seven permanent packers. While pack stock resources have declined, the amount of designated wilderness in R5 has steadily increased from approximately 1.2 million acres in 1964 to about 5.5 million acres at present.

The Pacific SW Region established the Pack Stock Center of Excellence (COE) in 2013, recognizing that pack stock is a valuable traditional tool for wilderness management and that skills and resources in the Region were diminishing.


The COE draws on the remaining pack stock skills and resources in the Region and operates under the guidance of a steering committee and two co-directors: one located in the Northern part of the Region hosted by the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and one in the Southern part of the Region hosted by the Inyo National Forest. In addition to the two hosting forests, forests participating in the Center of Excellence include five others with active pack stock programs: the Sierra, Los Padres, Mendocino, Stanislaus, and Klamath National Forests. These non-host forests play an important role by allowing their pack stock program resources to be part of the regional pool that can mobilized to meet regional needs, when not in use for priority work on the home forest. The COE staff also includes 4 interns each year who receive on-the-job training in pack stock, primitive and wilderness skills.

Services Provided