No Wilderness Bill Without the River

By Brad Fuqua
Grand Canyon News Editor
Sunday, February 02, 2003

As the next phase of the Colorado River Management Plan process gets ready to begin today in Phoenix, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition believes there could be something happening behind the scenes in Washington. Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon regional coordinator for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition and former National Park Service river guide, said the federal agency's congressional liaison office in Washington has wilderness designation legislation on its docket, although "not signed off."

"The only way a wilderness bill would pass this Congress is to eliminate the river from wilderness consideration or grandfather in motorize use," Crumbo said Thursday. "All this should take place in the planning process ... why the Park Service is considering wilderness legislation at this time makes us suspicious. We're asking them to just pull it; let's wait until the appropriate time."

Grand Canyon National Park sources, including CRMP planning leader Rick Ernenwein, said they were not aware of any legislative activity in Washington. Therefore, they could not comment on AWC's information.

In a press release dated Jan. 22, the AWC claims the potential legislation "could blindside the American people with a 1.1-million-acre wilderness proposal that removes the Colorado River from wilderness protection, thereby ensuring continued ecological damage from large crowds and pollution from motors." "We just want all that to stop until the public involvement process is completed," Crumbo said. "It's inappropriate to be pursuing this before the public process runs its course."

The AWC supports recommendations to not decrease use on the river, but spread it out over a longer time period while eliminating motors. At the same time, Crumbo said commercial allocations could remain the same while the cost of a river trip could become more affordable and available to more people.

River outfitters have a different set of recommendations on the issue to support their beliefs and Crumbo said they "have the best arguments." "We'll see what transpires," Crumbo said. "It should go on for another full year." In the meantime, the AWC planned to encourage people to attend this week's expert panels and workshops in Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Reprinted with permission.