A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal brief was filed Monday May 12, 2008, by a coalition of groups challenging the Grand Canyon National Park Colorado River Management Plan. The coalition includes River Runners for Wilderness (RRFW), Rock the Earth, Living Rivers and Wilderness Watch.
In a separate filing, a Friends of the Court brief, known as an amicus curiae brief, was filed Friday, May 23, 2008. The amicus brief supports the appeal of RRFW and its partners.
An impressive list of environmental protection and recreational groups signed the amicus brief in support of the case. They include the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association, Californians for Western Wilderness, Friends of Yosemite Valley, Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, North West Rafters Association, Olympic Park Associates, and the Western Lands Project. The esteemed wilderness and river recreation author Roderick Nash also joined the amicus brief.
"We are pleased to have these environmental and recreational groups stand with us as we seek wilderness protection for the river and backcountry of Grand Canyon and fair public access to it" said Tom Martin, Co-director of RRFW, "and we thank them for their support."
The ninth circuit appeal brief challenges the Park Service's lack of justification for a need of, and appropriate levels for, Grand Canyon National Park's concessions use of motorized tour boats and helicopter exchanges. According to the appeal brief filed May 12, the Park Service "failed to ever find that motorized commercial services are necessary to allow visitors who otherwise did not have the skill or equipment to raft the river."
The groups also contend that the Park Service's "Authorizing motorboats and helicopters in the river corridor fails to preserve wilderness values."
The case also challenges the Park Service's commercialization of the river. At present, 14,385 concessions passengers travel along the river with 2,270 self guided river runners during the same summer season, a ratio of over 6 commercial guests to each do-it-yourself river runner.
The appeal notes the "NPS's allocation of river permits unfairly favors concessioners at the public's expense." Here, the brief argues the NPS used no identifiable or appropriate standards to measure demand, as required by a 9th Circuit case on Grand Canyon river permit distribution from the 1970's.
The brief notes that the district court never identified any place in the Final Environmental Impact Statement or the Record of Decision where a rational basis for the Park Service's allocation decisions can be found.
The appeal points out that while park planners determined they needed information on the relative demand for motor trips vs. oar trips and the relative demand for different types of use over different seasons within the year, the river plan never made any such determinations.
The case also notes the "NPS violated the Organic Act by authorizing motorized uses that, combined with other uses of the river impair the Grand Canyon's natural soundscape."
You can find the appeal brief in its entirety here:
You can find the Friends of the Court brief here:
Legal representation for the Plaintiffs is being provided by Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center. Legal representation for the amicus is provided by Alison Thayer of Temkin, Wielga, Hardt and Longenecker.