Congress and Groups Support Wilderness River

July, 2003. Washington, DC

On the heels of recent public meetings addressing Park Service management of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, wilderness champion U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and 27 other lawmakers have delivered a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, urging her not to eliminate the Colorado River from wilderness protection at the park. Twenty-three grassroots conservation groups-representing thousands of citizens across the nation-sent a similar letter to Norton, asking that she allow the river's public planning process to continue.

"The sheer number of grassroots groups that signed on to our letter and the thousands of citizens they represent shows the depth of concern that people have for the Grand Canyon," said Michael Painter, coordinator of Californians for Western Wilderness. "They wish to see the Administration live up to its duty as a responsible steward of America's lands by allowing everyone-not just select industry groups-to have a say in the management of our natural jewels."

In May, with little fanfare or public notice, 10 western lawmakers wrote Secretary Norton requesting that her department halt any further consideration of Wilderness designation for the Colorado River as it flows through Grand Canyon National Park.

"If Secretary Norton grants this request, it will be the latest in a string of anti-wilderness assaults from her Department," said Mike Matz of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. "The strategy is to deliberately cut the American people out of having any voice in decisions about their own public lands, leaving nothing for future generations to enjoy."

Concerned that such a request was made without public participation, Rep. Grijalva and members of the grassroots conservation community sent letters to Secretary Norton urging her to follow a more inclusive, balanced process - as has been started by NPS - for managing the wild heart of the Grand Canyon. Since September 2002, NPS has conducted five scoping sessions across the nation, conducted stakeholder workshops, and amassed more than 50,000 individual comments.

"Raul Grijalva's attitude toward wilderness in Arizona is in the spirit of Mo Udall and others who have chosen that champion path," said Donald Hoffman, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. "We can't thank the Congressman enough for moving to the front of the pack and speaking out for the protection of Arizona's outstanding wilderness resources."

Last weeks stakeholder meetings held in Phoenix were one more attempt by the Park Service to gather the multitude of stakeholder concerns about river management before they develop a preferred alternative. A particularly contentious issue, the 20-year wait for self-guided "do-it-yourself" river runners, continues to intensify as more and more people discover they can run the river themselves.

"The cherished wilderness experience valued by non-motorized river users and canyon hikers rests on quiet and natural sounds with no intrusion of human motors or mechanization, but it has been significantly impacted at the Colorado," said Kim Crumbo of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, who has worked closely on the Coalition's resolution proposal. "Our conservationist' s proposal significantly improves the self-guided river runners' access to the river while retaining the existing commercial services by lengthening the primary river running season."

A wilderness designation recommendation for a portion of the Grand Canyon has been pending since 1977, when the Director of the National Park Service first recommended statutory wilderness protection for more than one million acres of the park, including the Colorado River. Then, in 1980 with the creation of the Colorado River Management Plan, the NPS recommended "potential wilderness" status for the river and to phase out motorized use of the river by 1985.

However, an amendment to the 1981 Department of the Interior Appropriations bill, sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on behalf of the commercial outfitting industry, overrode the phase-out and paved the way for continued motorized access on the river. Twenty years later, Senator Hatch is still lobbying on behalf of motorized outfitters as one of the cosigners of the letter to Secretary Norton seeking an end to wilderness considerations.

"The National Park Service should be allowed to listen to people who don't want to listen to motors in the Grand Canyon," said Rob Smith, Southwest Regional Director for the Sierra Club. "If the Grand Canyon isn't wilderness, then what is?"

The effort to strip wilderness protection from the Colorado River goes hand-in-hand with three recent DOI actions that conservationists say constitutes a nation-wide wilderness assault. Secretary Norton has resurrected a loophole from an outdated mining law - known as RS 2477 - to give away road rights-of-way through protected federal lands to special interests; revoked her department's wilderness inventory handbook and issued directives not to consider any more lands for potential wilderness designation in Alaska or across the West; and is now considering appealing a wilderness case to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to prevent the American people from going to court to enforce environmental protections.

"We think it's great that members of congress have stepped forward to support wilderness, the public process and equitable access for the Colorado River in Grand Canyon" notes Jo Johnson, Co-Director of River Runners for Wilderness.

Following is the text of the letter from the grassroots conservation community to Secretary Norton:

Alaska Wilderness League, American Canoe Association, American Lands Alliance, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Bluewater Network, Californians for Western Wilderness, Colorado Environmental Coalition, The David Brower Fund, Flagstaff Activist Network, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Living Rivers, Native Habitats, Nevada Wilderness Project, Northwest Rafters Association, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Red Rock Forests, Republicans for Environmental Protection, River Runners for Wilderness, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Wilderness Watch

June 13, 2003

Hon. Gale Norton
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Also via fax: 202-208-6950

Dear Secretary Norton:

The undersigned groups support the highest level of protection for Grand Canyon National Park, including the Colorado River. Therefore, we wish to state our opposition to the proposal outlined in the letter dated May 8, 2003, which you received from several Arizona and Utah legislators. That letter asked you to remove the Colorado River from the current Park Service Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation and then expedite the recommendation to the president.

Our objections are several.

Grand Canyon National Park is currently undertaking a revision of its Colorado River Management Plan. Many of the organizations signing onto this letter provided scoping comments for the Plan, stressing the need for a framework of wilderness protection for the River. In fact, some of us were co-plaintiffs in the legal process that restarted the river planning process. The action proposed in the congressional letter would undermine this process by imposing the narrow view of one set of interests on the management of the river.

Circumventing this ongoing public process flies directly in the face of your own principles of the "4 C's": communication, consultation and cooperation, all in the service of conservation.

The proposal in the letter favors one specific economic interest, Grand Canyon commercial motorized outfitters. Urging you to "take prompt, decisive action to eliminate the Colorado River corridor from the existing Park Service wilderness recommendation" and "quickly" forward it to the President for "timely submission to Congress" is highly inappropriate and unfair to the thousands of citizens who expect to continue their participation in the National Park Service's full public process.

The letter itself contains inaccuracies we would like to correct.

First, motorized rafting does not play the critical role in providing "broad" public access to this area that its proponents suggest. Current ten-year industry contracts have given motorized rafts a huge proportion (75%) of the River's use allocation. People wishing to raft down the river without using river concessions currently face a 20-year wait. Additionally, the industry's trips are very expensive. If anything, the current scheme of motorized access acts as a hindrance to broad public access.

Recent computer modeling has shown that wilderness management of the Colorado River without motorized rafts could sharply increase public access, while contributing to a strong regional economy.

Saying that motorized use has "no negative impact on park resources" is simply not true: motors do impact the wilderness resource. The Grand Canyon provides a wilderness experience that is found nowhere else in the country. Non-motorized travel allows enough space between and within groups to enrich visitors' own experience of the wild character of the canyon. Motorized use also causes overcrowding at particularly scenic areas and campsites along the river corridor. Additionally, motors change the soundscape of the Canyon.

Continued motorized use tarnishes our American heritage and the wilderness character of one of the crown jewels of our National Park system. Given the world-class, unique nature of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, which continues to receive broad public support for its preservation, we urge you not to remove wilderness protection from the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and to allow the public a full range of choices to protect the Grand Canyon for future generations.


Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League

David E. Jenkins, Director of Conservation and Public Policy, American Canoe Association

Lisa Dix, American Lands Alliance

Don Hoffman, Executive Director, Arizona Wilderness Coalition

Sean Smith, Public Lands Director, Bluewater Network

Michael J. Painter, Coordinator, Californians for Western Wilderness

Elise Jones, Executive Director, Colorado Environmental Coalition

Mikhail Davis, Director, The David Brower Fund

Jon Orlando, Vice President, Board of Directors, Flagstaff Activist Network

Shaaron Netherton, Executive Director, Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Kristen Sykes, Interior Department Watchdog, Friends of the Earth

Ronni Egan, Executive Director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness

Owen Lammers, Executive Director, Living Rivers

Georgia Stigall, Director, Native Habitats

John Wallin, Nevada Wilderness Project

Lloyd Knapp, Grand Canyon Coordinator, Northwest Rafters Association

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Wayne Y. Hoskisson, Executive Director, Red Rock Forests

Jim DiPeso, Policy Director, REP America (Republicans for Environmental Protection)

Tom Martin, Jo Johnson, Co-Directors, River Runners for Wilderness

Jim McCarthy, Chair, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter

Liz Thomas, Field Attorney, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

TinaMarie Ekker, Policy Director, Wilderness Watch

Fran Mainella, National Park Service Director, Joe Alston, Grand Canyon NP Superintendent, Jeff Cross, Grand Canyon Science Center, Rick Ernenwein, Grand Canyon Science Center