Grand Canyon Litigation Update

A scheduling conference was held Wednesday, July 12, 2009, between the National Park Service and legal representatives of a coalition of groups challenging the National Park Service Colorado River Management Plan in court. The case was filed just days after the plan was finalized in March, 2006.

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

During scheduling, it was agreed that the case will be conducted in two phases, the "merits" phase which will decide whether the Park Service violated the law, and a "remedy" phase to decide, if the plaintiffs prevail, what kind of relief should be granted.

The Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association has requested to legally intervene in the litigation. The trade association's request will be reviewed by Judge Campbell and he will decide whether to allow intervention by the group.

The groups challenging the park's plan include River Runners for Wilderness, Wilderness Watch, Rock the Earth and Living Rivers. The coalition is seeking to require the National Park Service to fulfill the park's mandate that the Colorado River through Grand Canyon be managed as wilderness.

In addition, the groups seek to overturn the park's decision to perpetuate the inequitable allocation of river running permits. The coalition contends that the new management plan gives commercial users priority over the public seeking opportunities for do-it-yourself rafting and kayaking in the summer.

The new river management plan is presently assigning self-guided river runners winter launch permits as far into the future as 2011, while holding thousands of summer trips open and as yet unassigned for the river's concessionaires, who have not begun booking for 2008. In the new plan, the astonishingly lopsided summer ratio of concessions passengers and crew is seven to every one self-guided paddler.

"It is scandalous discrimination against those choosing to do their own trips. While tourists can buy their way onto a high-priced summertime concessionaire tour almost immediately, the do-it-yourself public suffers a decrease in trip length, introduction of a highly limiting weighted lottery, and draconian restrictions to visitation not seen in any other National Park" notes Jo Johnson, Co-director of River Runners for Wilderness. "Essentially all of the use gained by the self-guided in the plan is in the chilly winter months," she adds.

A third concern of the group is the Park Service's failure to properly address and mitigate degradation of the Grand Canyon's ecosystem by human use and the ongoing depredations of Glen Canyon Dam, including the lack of planning for lower river flows caused by the continuing drought.

The coalition is represented by Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center.

River Runners for Wilderness is a national non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of wilderness quality rivers and lands, including wilderness access issues. For more information see their website at

Jo Johnson, Co-director
River Runners for Wilderness