Grand Canyon Litigation Update

With a lead off quote from Theodore Roosevelt, a legal reply was filed September 4, 2007, by representatives for a coalition of groups challenging the Grand Canyon National Park Colorado River Management Plan.

The Plan was challenged in Federal Court just days after being finalized in March, 2006. The groups challenging the park's commercialized motorized river plan include four nonprofit organizations: River Runners for Wilderness, Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch, and Living Rivers.

Legal representation is being provided by Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center.

The case is being heard by David G. Campbell, U.S. district court judge for the District of Arizona.

The case has four main issues, and each issue is argued in a number of ways.

River Runners for Wilderness encourages anyone interested to read the entire brief located here:

which includes links to a standing declaration from noted economist Dr. Donald Walls, a Material Facts document, and the Reply Brief.

This Riverwire covers only a few of the many arguments presented in this brief, fact sheet and declaration.

The first issue is that the Park Service "failed to comply with its duty to preserve the river corridor's wilderness character". In arguing this issue, the Plaintiffs have pointed out, that among other things, that National Park Service Management Plans and the Grand Canyon National Park General Management Plan all speak clearly about managing the Colorado River as wilderness. The Plaintiffs argue that the Management Plans contain requirements to manage the river as wilderness that the NPS must legally follow.

The second issue is that the Park Service "never determined that motorized uses (as opposed to non-motorized uses) and amounts of commercial services are "necessary" for the public to experience and enjoy the Colorado River". Here, the Plaintiffs note that motorized "commercial services account for the vast majority of the allocated commercial use" but "the Park Service does not cite to a single page in the FEIS or ROD where the Park Service made a specific finding that any amount of motorized services are necessary."

The Plaintiffs also note "motorboats and helicopters cannot reasonably be deemed "primitive"" and that "The Park Service must limit the "diversity and range of recreational opportunities" to those that are consistent with preserving the river's values and cannot juxtapose demand for inappropriate commercial services as a need for those services."

The third issue is that Grand Canyon National Park failed to comply with the Organic Act. This is where the arguments about impairment to the resource, allocations and access are presented. After pointing out that this issue is not one of self guided users vs. concession passengers, the Plaintiffs note that one of the defendant interveners, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association (GCROA), "vehemently opposes an equitable allocation of available use based upon relative demand, likely because it suspects the result would be a decrease in commercial services and an increase in noncommercial permits." 

This information is based, in part, on a 2002 internal GCROA memo on the river planning process discussing the need to have the support of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association (GCPBA). The GCPBA is also intervening against this litigation.

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the GCROA, this memo

is found in the Administrative Record for the case. This memo discusses ways to influence the GCPBA, how to profit from commercial passenger insurance, just how weak political support is to assist the concessionaires, and how the river concessionaires can have their "cake and eat it too".

The brief continues by challenging a 50-50 split in user days, and notes "the Park Service makes clear that measuring allocation in terms of user days is a disadvantage to noncommercial users and a financial boon for commercial companies." The Plaintiffs note that although the current plan utilizes user-days in making allocations, the NPS has conclusively stated that "Daily launches are probably the most important use measure for measuring impacts to visitor use and experience because launches (or trips) are the "units of use" that have encounters, occupy campsites, or influence the probability of encounters at attraction sites."

The fourth issue is that the NPS failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and has caused impairment to the resource with regards to natural quiet and wilderness character.

The September 4, 2007 brief will be followed by a response/ brief by the Park Service due October 3, 2007. Oral arguments may be scheduled for as soon as November.