In an opinion issued Tuesday, July 21st, the 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco re-affirmed the lower court decision that the Park has discretion in allowing motorized rafts to operate on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park.
In the case, attorneys for River Runners for Wilderness, et al, argued that the Park is legally compelled to follow its own policies and therefore the existence of motorized boats and helicopters for recreation is illegal in the potential wilderness. The 9th District panel of judges ruled 3-0 to uphold the November 2007 decision of Judge Campbell of the 9th Circuit Court in Phoenix, Arizona, who ruled that the National Park Service (NPS) may manage as it sees fit, regardless of its stated policies.
River Runners for Wilderness brought suit, along with its partner plaintiffs Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch and Living Rivers charging that the NPS has never found that motorized commercial services are necessary or appropriate and that motor boats are not necessary for the public to use and enjoy the river.
Together with the Park’s recommendation of the river corridor for wilderness designation, the groups also charged that the Park’s own policies mandate that the Park must manage as if it was already designated. Further, the groups held that the NPS violates the Organic Act in that the preponderance of choice summer launches are awarded to commercial concessions operations with no regard for the demand for those permits by noncommercial river runners.
The plaintiff groups likely will not appeal the latest decision, according to RRFW Co-Director, Jo Johnson.
“The legal option was just one of several strategies,” she said “we’re as determined as ever to win genuine wilderness treatment of the river, and fair access for noncommercial boaters, and we’ll keep fighting for both.”
River Runners for Wilderness deeply appreciates the efforts of its legal team, Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates, and Matt Bishop of Western Environmental Law Center.