Grand Canyon Wilderness Frequently Asked Question’s

We frequently get asked questions about Grand Canyon Wilderness. This list is an attempt to answer those questions. Have a question you don't see the answer to? Ask us! Please send an e-mail to JoJohnson@rrfw.org and we'll get that answer to you as soon as possible!

Question:

Isn’t Grand Canyon National Park a Congressionally Designated Wilderness Area?

Short Answer:  Not yet

Long Answer:  The National Park Service has identified 94% of Grand Canyon National Park as worthy of congressional wilderness designation. The NPS attempted to move the wilderness recommendation to Congress in the 1970’s, including the Colorado River within the Park, but the recommendation stalled in the Office of Management and Budget, and congress has yet to see a recommendation. (sources: 1993 GRCA Wilderness Recommendation, Hijacking A River by Jeffrey Ingram)

Question:

If the Colorado River in Grand Canyon was a designated wilderness, what would happen to the Colorado River water flows through the Park?

Short Answer:  Nothing.

Long Answer:  Various flawed arguments have been put forward stating wilderness designation for Grand Canyon and the Colorado River in it would impact water flows through the Grand Canyon. There is no factual basis for such a claim.

Question:

If the Colorado River in Grand Canyon was a designated wilderness, wouldn’t public access for all river runners be reduced?

Short Answer:  Absolutely not.

Long Answer:  The National Park Service 2006 Colorado River Management  Plan proposed a motor free alternative that got MORE people down the river than was allowed previously. That said, we can no longer continue to simply increase off-season use for the self-guided river runners who rightfully demand a greater share of the prime summer season access. Re-allocating summertime use must be considered in future river planning.

Question:

If the motor-free alternative was better for the resource, why wasn’t it chosen in the last river management review in 2006 over the present motorized plan?

Short Answer:  The selection criteria gave more weight to plans with motors. Go figure.

Long Answer:  No, really, the selection criteria were set up so that motor-free plans failed because they were “motor-free” and hence had a negative impact.

Question:  

Motorized tour boats are safer, right?

Short Answer: Oar trips are actually safer.

Long Answer: A ten year study looking at all river injuries that required a helicopter evacuation found motorized tour boats had a higher incidence of helicopter evacuation when compared to commercial oar trips. This same study also found that do-it-yourself trips had the least amount of helicopter evacuations. (Fateful Journey by Myers, Becker and Stevens)

Question:

Motor trips don’t bother me any, why does it matter if they are still there?

Short Answer: It’s all about the resource and the Wilderness Act, not what “bothers” you or me.

Long Answer: Wilderness designation is the highest form of federal land legal protection under United States law. Fewer bad things happen on public lands protected as wilderness than on other lands under any other category. The Wilderness Act of 1964 is crystal clear in its intention that designation is meant to exclude motors of any kind. It’s not about anybody’s or any group’s personal preference, it’s about the very best protection for the very best wild places. There’s no denying that the river and backcountry of Grand Canyon fit that description.

Question:

If motors are not allowed under the Wilderness Act, why not just make an exception for the river in Grand Canyon? You know, “Grandfather” them in.

Short Answer: Motors are not needed in Grand Canyon, hence no need to make an exception.

Long Answer: The Wilderness Act allows motorized use to access private in-holdings within wilderness areas. There are no private in-holdings along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. River concessionaires operate at the behest of the National Park Service, and are “supposed” to further the NPS mission. In this case, the river concessions still use motors based on assistance from a legislative rider inserted in appropriations legislation back in 1980 by Senator Orin Hatch. While the rider language expired in 1981, the then Secretary of Interior James Watt made sure the NPS made an about face, abandoning a motor-free river and embracing motors. Any “Grandfather” language for a Grand Canyon Wilderness Bill should be just that, allowable for Grandfather, but once he and Grandmother are no longer with us, we move forward to a motor-free river experience.

Question:

The river is already motor-free for 6 and a half months. What’s wrong with leaving it 50-50?

Short Answer: There are no months in Grand Canyon when the river does not qualify for wilderness protection.

Long Answer: The concept of wilderness is enduring throughout time. Grand Canyon is all about time. There is no part of the year when Grand Canyon does not speak its timeless message to us. To allow a motorized time period degrades what the Grand Canyon has to give us…the most precious gift of time.

Question:

What about disabled folks? Don’t they need motorized boats to experience the river in Grand Canyon?

Short Answer: Absolutely not.

Long Answer: Rowing trips are no more dangerous or difficult than traveling on motorized tour boats, even for the disabled. Plenty of folks with disabilities travel safely on oar rafts. For a great illustration of this, see the movie trailer for “Right to Risk” at http://www.righttorisk.org/righttorisk/rtr_clip.html. This documentary recounts the 15 day journey of 8 disabled participants with varying levels of disability on an oar trip. Many noncommercial oar trips also count the disabled among their trip mates.

Question:

What about a helicopter rescue in an emergency? Will that be outlawed if the river is designated wilderness?

Short Answer: Not at all.

Long Answer: Wilderness managers are well versed in knowing when search and rescue operations call for motorized tools. Rescue procedures allow agency personnel to use whatever is necessary in serious life-threatening and medical emergencies. Life saving definitely comes before wilderness mandates.

Question:

Don’t three out of four folks choose to go on a motorized trip instead of an oar trip?

Short Answer:  No.

Long Answer: By ten year concessions contracts, 75% of all concessions trips are to be motorized. Once the oar trips book up, the only option the public that needs concessions assistance has, is to go motor or stay at home. That’s some “choice”.

Question:

Don’t the oar-only concessions companies support a motor free summer season river? Why not?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: The oar-only concessions don’t have to compete for market share when three quarters of the available seats are motorized. The oar companies know of the study that surveyed passengers who had done both types of trips, oar and motor, and of the results, where nine out of ten people surveyed said the oar trip was the better experience of the Canyon.