Wilderness Without the River?

November 2002. River Runners for Wilderness (RRFW) has recently learned that the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, their legal council and staff from the Grand Canyon Trust have been on Capitol Hill, to gather support for a Grand Canyon Wilderness bill that excludes the river.

Tom Martin and Jo Johnson of River Runners for Wilderness took the opportunity while in Washington for the Colorado River Management Plan Scoping Meetings to inform congressional staffers about the progress of the open public CRMP process. Also participating in the informational meetings were members from the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, The Wilderness Society, American Canoe Association and American Whitewater.

Jo Johnson noted "Our purpose was to educate staffers on the Colorado River Management Plan process and ask their help in assuring the process would go forward unimpeded by surprise legislation, as happened when the Hatch Appropriations Rider was passed in 1980. So you can imagine our astonishment when we learned about the river concessionaires activities." Several congressional staffers confirmed they had been visited one month earlier by the outfitters group and the Trust to gather support for a possible Grand Canyon Wilderness bill that excludes the river.

"We are right in the middle of the most intensive on-going public process for managing the Colorado River in over twenty years, driven by a legal settlement to complete the planning process in time to award new river concessions contracts. It's alarming that the river concessions would be considering a legislative end run around the public process at this time" noted Tom Martin.

Wilderness Management of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon is whole-heartedly embraced by the American public. Wilderness management is also supported by the Wilderness Act and National Park Service policy. It is unfortunate that wilderness management has been fought at every step of the way by the river concessionaires and their allies. Its clear America wants a river wilderness, especially in Grand Canyon. Wilderness areas in the country strictly control for-profit private business activities, both in minimizing the amount of guaranteed access the private businesses are allowed, and in making sure America's motor free heritage is preserved.