A decision by Federal Judge John Campbell will allow two additional parties to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to incorporate better wilderness protection and discrimination-free access for the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. River Runners for Wilderness (RRFW) and its legal partners, Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch and Living Rivers, filed suit in March, 2006, against the National Park Service for being derelict in the preservation of the river through Grand Canyon National Park.
On October 17, 2006, the Judge granted permission for two other groups, Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association (GCPBA) and Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association (a concessionaire trade group), to intervene in the current litigation on the side of the federal government. Primarily at issue is the continued mismanagement of a proposed wilderness area in Grand Canyon National Park.
By Order of the Judge, the case has been separated into two phases where the merits of the matter would be determined first, prior to any actions or "remedies" decided in the course of the case. RRFW attorneys Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center did not oppose the intervention of GCPBA and GCROA in the remedy phase of the case. The attorneys questioned the need to allow intervention by the river concessionaires or the access group in the "merits" phase, since neither group is required to enforce the laws governing National Parks.
"The legal issue is whether Grand Canyon National Park has abided by the laws and policies set in place to protect the park" said Tom Martin, Co-Director of the national grassroots group RRFW. "The public has been waiting 30 years for the National Park Service to fulfill its lawful responsibility to protect the wilderness Colorado River in Grand Canyon and to foster nondiscriminatory access to it. It is indeed unfortunate that we must use legal tools to force the agency to live up to its obligations to the public."
The RRFW founders were originally part of the GCPBA and helped bring the 2000 GCPBA lawsuit against the National Park Service to a successful conclusion. That litigation forced the restart of the Colorado River Management Plan after the planning process was arbitrarily halted by then-Superintendent Rob Arnberger citing its "contentiousness". A condition of the settlement to restart the CRMP was for the park to address the lack of wilderness protection on the river. RRFW sees its current lawsuit as a continuation of that legal process to get the park back onto its earlier commitment to setting the stage for formal wilderness designation.
"River Runners for Wilderness is seeking to protect what modest gains were made in the recent CRMP and move forward with real wilderness protection and equitable access," noted Martin. "As many of the applicants to Grand Canyon's recent lottery found out, changing from a waiting list to a lottery is not getting us any closer to resolving the wilderness degradation and access inequity issues for the park."
"Any insinuation by others that our lawsuit will result in less allocation for noncommercial boaters is disingenuous" added RRFW Co-director, Jo Johnson. "The CRMP draft alternatives proved that the park passed up better options to protect the Colorado River as wilderness, with adequate opportunities for concession trips, fair noncommercial access in the coveted summer season, and a standard for resource preservation that is as good as or better than we see now."