Groups Sue to Protect Grand Canyon

Coalition effort to improve management of the Colorado River

(Denver)  A coalition of groups has announced their lawsuit challenging last Thursday’s National Park Service decision to continue to allow commercial motorized rafting tours and helicopter passenger exchanges through Grand Canyon National Park. Since Grand Canyon’s recommendation for formal wilderness designation three decades ago, the Park has neglected to remove motorized tour boats and helicopters, that, by the Park’s own admission, do not conform to legal wilderness standards.

The groups, Rock the Earth, River Runners for Wilderness, Living Rivers and Wilderness Watch, are defending this crown jewel of the National Park system and every visitor’s right to a pristine wilderness experience in the backcountry and on the river. The coalition is represented by Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center.

“After consulting with a number of partners and citizen groups, we feel that the recent park service ruling fails to properly fulfill the National Park Service mandate that the Colorado River through Grand Canyon must be managed as wilderness,” states Rock The Earth Executive Director Marc Ross, “We’re fighting to make sure the National Park Service does the duty all Americans entrust them with: protecting this beloved natural treasure.”

In addition to the Park Service’s failure to remove motorized tour boats and helicopters in a qualifying wilderness area, the agency’s decision to perpetuate the inequitable allocation of river running permits is also at issue. Currently, commercial tours receive priority over public opportunities for do-it-yourself rafting and kayaking in the summer.

“The distribution of use  is so skewed that public river runners have little or no chance of ever gaining a permit through the proposed lottery. It is scandalous discrimination against those choosing to do their own trips while tourists can buy their way onto a high-priced tour almost immediately,” notes Jo Johnson, Co-director of River Runners for Wilderness.

A third concern of the group is the Park Service’s failure to properly address and mitigate degradation of the Grand Canyon’s ecosystem by human use and the ongoing depredations of Glen Canyon Dam, including the lack of planning for lower river flows caused by the continuing drought.

“Dangerous national precedents for the commercialization and privatization of public lands and wilderness areas are at stake here,” said Julia Olson, lead attorney. “We hope they finally address these vital concerns now that we’ve filed notice.”

River Runners for Wilderness is a national non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of wilderness quality rivers and lands, including wilderness access issues. For more information see their website at


Jo Johnson, Co-director
River Runners for Wilderness

Marc Ross, Executive Director
Rock the Earth