Stakeholders Meeting Report

Stakeholder groups convened in Phoenix on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 24th & 25th, 2003 to provide additional input to the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP) team. This was the 2nd session in which representatives from 10 interested groups met. The stakeholders represented were outfitters, commercial guests, non-commercial boaters, wilderness advocates, environmental groups, researchers, disabled populations, tribes, river guides and educational groups. Surprisingly, the outfitters were granted 8 seats at this meeting, doubled from the January sessions.

The Mary Orton Company facilitated the discussion of two topics: allocation of recreational use and the continued use of motorized rafts in Grand Canyon. On Tuesday, each of 4 subgroups created several scenarios on one of the two topics, with a description of each scenario and the benefits and drawbacks of each. These scenarios resembled very general draft alternatives that might be presented by Park planners as part of the CRMP EIS, expected out in the fall of 2003.

Most of the allocation themes were variations on the current method of split allocations, however the common-pool system, in which a group or individual reserves a permit for a specific date and then decides whether to go as a self guided or concessions trip generated lively discussion. "I didn't really understand what a common pool system meant before today," observed Donnie Dove of Canyon R.E.O., an outfitting company for self-guided trips. "Now I can see the benefits of a system that automatically meets demand without bias." A common-pool, or reservation system, is utilized to great effectiveness in Boundary Waters, several representatives observed. At issue was whether it could be adapted to use in the Grand Canyon.

The outfitter representatives made clear during the allocation decision exercise that they feel there should be no change in the status quo for recreational use in the Grand Canyon, and they do not support public discussion of any alternatives other than the "no change" alternative that will be part of the draft EIS. This came on the heels of a letter to Secretary Norton on behalf of the outfitters urging her to strip the Colorado River out of Grand Canyon's formal Wilderness Recommendation and signed by members of the Utah and Arizona delegation.

An Arizona Republic article about this letter drew concerned citizens to a public session held Tuesday evening, according to comments many made in their introductions. Although this meeting was not formally announced, about 25 people attended. Some of the scenarios created by the stakeholder representatives were offered for a benefits/drawbacks discussion.

On Wednesday, the stakeholder groups also discussed benefits and drawbacks of scenarios. Within some of the scenarios was a discussion of whether hiring staff (spectrum of outfitted services) would be allowed, and what restrictions would be placed on each scenarios. Representatives then rated each of the scenarios using two different questions: "Does this scenario meet the needs of my stakeholder constituents?", and "If I was on the planning team, would I include this scenario for public evaluation in the draft EIS?" Most stakeholder groups supported a wide range of alternatives offered for public discussion in the EIS, whether or not their group's needs would be met by the respective alternative. The exceptions were the outfitters and outfitter guests who generally felt nothing should be offered that substantially differs from the current situation.

Among ideas offered were month-long alternating motor and motor-free periods to allow summer enjoyment free from motors and increases and decreases in the current motorless season. During the discussion of resource impacts from current use, wilderness advocates reiterated that pollution and sound were not primary reasons for championing a motor-free river. "The Wilderness Act specifically refers to "mechanized transport" as being antithetical to a wilderness experience," observed Jo Johnson, Co-director of River Runners for Wilderness, "the very existence of motors is the barrier, not their decibel levels."