May 2003. River Runners For Wilderness has learned that 10 Arizona and Utah Legislators have submitted a letter to the Secretary of Interior urging her to eliminate the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park from the park's wilderness recommendation. The letter urges Secretary Norton to expedite the revised recommendation in order to get the Grand Canyon designated wilderness without the river as soon as possible. The letter makes it obvious that the legislators are acting on behalf of the Grand Canyon river rafting concessionaires.
This latest move by the outfitters to protect their own interests completely undercuts the ongoing Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP) process. The efforts of the CRMP team, along with the comments and input of tens of thousands river runners and other Grand Canyon stakeholders submitted during the process are rendered moot by any recommendation. Further, all wilderness protection for the river will be swept aside if Secretary Norton acts on it, since the river will no longer be proposed potential wilderness.
"The depths to which the Colorado River outfitters will stoop to protect their motors and allocation are breathtaking." said Jo Johnson, Co-Director of River Runners for Wilderness. "The very individuals and companies that have always proclaimed they want to do what's best for Grand Canyon are now actively working to eliminate the protection the river corridor has enjoyed since the seventies. It's hard to think about the river not having that protection."
Following National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines with public review and participation, in 1977 the National Park Service submitted a Final Wilderness Recommendation, which included the river as wilderness to the Department of Interior. This recommendation went through an in-house review at Grand Canyon in 1993. That review noted the river as "potential wilderness" pending the elimination of the non-conforming use of motorboats. Also noted in the recommendation was a commitment to continually revisit the distribution of use between the river concessions and the general river running public. The original recommendation has yet to be forwarded from the Interior Secretary to the President, where it would then go to Congress for approval.
In the last few months, there have been several wilderness recent rollbacks resulting from administration officials acting as directed by western legislators, the most notable is the release of millions of acres of Bureau of Land Management lands under wilderness consideration. The outfitters have convinced some Utah and Arizona legislators that the time is ripe for another legislative solution to perceived threats to the outfitters' status quo.
The letter makes no attempt to hide the underlying reasons for removing the river from the wilderness recommendation, stating "Motorized recreational use plays a critical role in enabling the NPS to provide broad public access to this area in a manner consistent with resource protection...Without use of this kind, public access to these trips could be sharply reduced, by fifty percent or more. This use has no negative impact on park resources, the quality of the visitor experience, or even the area's suitability for possible designation by Congress as wilderness."
The current situation has indeed affected the quality of visitor experience, or more accurately, given the 20 year wait for the public who does not use outfitter services, the absence of visitation. There has been many negative impacts on park resources as well. The absence of current wilderness protection the river now has will allow even more degradation. What's more, the Park will no longer be required to consider the quality of the visitor experience under any future River Plan since this is only a wilderness requirement. The CRMP process will change dramatically, and the CRMP now being drafted will be invalid, Johnson observed.
"The current planning process is a chance to explore creative solutions within true wilderness treatment of the river in Grand Canyon, a circumvention of that process by demanding a Wilderness Recommendation without the river is truly tragic." Johnson observed.
The 10 members of Congress who signed this letter need to hear from you that they are not representing your interests, nor the interests of many who visit Grand Canyon, and that you are entitled to participate in the management of the Colorado River. In addition to these 10, Senator John McCain has indicated his office will send a similar letter. Also, Secretary Norton should hear your concerns. Please make your outrage known:
AZ Senator John Kyl: (202) 224-4521, 703 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
UT Senator Orrin Hatch: (202) 224-5251, 104 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
AZ Representative J.D. Hayworth: (202) 225-2190, 2434 Rayburn House Office Bldg.
UT Senator Robert Bennett: (202) 224-5444, 431 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
AZ Representative John Shadegg: (202) 225-3361, 306 Cannon House Office Bldg.
UT Representative Chris Cannon: (202) 225-7751, 118 Cannon House Office Bldg.
AZ Representative Jeff Flake: (202) 225-2635, 424 Cannon House Office Bldg.
UT Representative Rob Bishop: (202) 225-0453, 124 Cannon House Office Bldg.
AZ Representative Rick Renzi: (202) 225-2315, 418 Cannon House Office Bldg.
AZ Representative Trent Franks: (202) 225-4576, 1237 Longworth House Office Bldg.
AZ Senator John McCain: (202) 224-2235, 241 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
All addresses are Washington D.C., 20510
Whether or not you are in their state or district, remind them that Grand Canyon is a National Park, for all Americans.
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton: (202) 208-7351, 1849 C. St. NW Washington, DC 20240
The full text of the letter to Secretary Norton will be posted on the River Runners for Wilderness website. Stay tuned for the website address in a future Riverwire.