Grand Canyon Litigation Update

The National Park Service has met the August 3, 2007 court ordered deadline to submit a response in a legal challenge of the Colorado River Management Plan in Grand Canyon National Park.

The groups challenging the park's river plan include the non-profit River Runners for Wilderness, Wilderness Watch, Rock the Earth and Living Rivers, who filed the lawsuit just days after the Plan was finalized in March, 2006.

The litigation challenges the present inequitable allocation and lack of wilderness protection for the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.

The court challenge of the plan did not include an injunction to stop the implementation of the present plan.

Two groups, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association and the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, intervened against the litigation.

The river plan was last updated eighteen years ago in 1989, with only incremental changes applied at that time.

In the initial challenge, the coalition’s lawsuit stated the Colorado River Plan inequitably allocates “use on the Colorado River between private commercial concessionaires and non-commercial users.”

The new Colorado River Management Plan allows 2,270 self guided passengers on 185 river trips to access the river in the primary summer season. During the same time period, the concessionaires are allowed 14,385 concessions passengers on 476 river trips.

In the briefings filed August 3, 2007, the National Park Service defense attorney admits “During the planning process, NPS determined that assessing relative demand was neither feasible nor necessary”.

The litigation also challenges the new plan’s continuation of motorized tour boats and helicopter use, “at levels that have caused, and continue to cause, adverse impacts and impairment to the wilderness character and natural resources of the Colorado River corridor.”

In the wilderness component of the briefings filed August 3, 2007, the National Park Service defense attorney equates motorized tour boats traveling through the Canyon to a temporary flash of lightning, noting that to argue motorized tour boats impact wilderness character “is akin to (and as illogical as) asserting that a lightning flash is a permanent disturbance of the darkness of the night sky for the moment it is visible.”

The coalition will have until September 3, 2007, to submit a reply to the just-released documents. The National Park Service will then be allowed to submit a counter reply by October 3, 2007, with the judge’s ruling to come this winter.

River Runners for wilderness legal representation is being provided by Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center.

The documents filed August 3, 2007, along with all earlier court documents filed in this case, have been posted as PDF documents on the River Runners for Wilderness web site. You can read the documents at: