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  Wise Guise
  BQR ~ fall 1998

rand Canyon River Guides at times suffers from an organizational identity crisis. Who are we? For what principles do we stand? Comments in the last newsletter display a vast array of opinions. For those of us who devoted a lot of time to the organization, our pat answer has always been: to provide guides a common voice regarding issues and decisions that affect the Colorado River. But how can we have a common voice with visions so diverse?

   Our primary goals as an organization are printed on every newsletter for all to see:

Protecting the Grand Canyon
Setting the highest standards for the river profession
Celebrating the unique spirit of the river community
Providing the best possible river experience

   Protecting Grand Canyon always took the top line, and is relatively unambiguous. The other goals are a little muddier, as "highest standards" and "the best possible river experience" are vastly open to interpretation.

   Still, I have always believed GCRG to be, first and foremost, an environmental organization. Others did, too—perhaps even most of us. Yet some believe our primary focus should be taking care of the guides. Certainly this is a worthwhile cause, and one to which we have devoted time—organizationally as well as privately. However, in keeping with our stated goals, this is not our primary mission.

   It's easy to print letterhead with benevolent sounding mission statements, but the board of directors is supposed to live by them. Organizations sometimes conceal ulterior motives beneath lofty goals, which are quickly cast aside when the questions become difficult.

   The challenge, then, is to set economic and personal issues aside, and decide what's best for the Canyon—to put the health of the river ahead of our own self interests. GCRG has done so remarkably well over the last ten years. It hasn't been so difficult; we share a deep love for the Canyon. But what happens when the questions get harder? There's a fork in the trail ahead; which one will we take?

   The outfitters offer an example for us. Their new club, Grand Canyon River Outfitters' Association, (GCROA) was organized with strikingly similar goals:

Protection of Grand Canyon, with particular emphasis on
the Colorado River Corridor;
Providing a diverse range of the highest quality river
experiences to the outfitted public;
Supporting the people and places of the Grand Canyon
river community.

   Sound familiar? You bet. At first we thought, "Wow, they must think we're really cool!" Imitation is flattery, as they say. But almost immediately, stark differences between the organizations become apparent. Some wonderful people are involved with the outfitter's organization—passionate folks who care deeply about the Canyon, the guides, and the river experience they provide. And they have done some good things to protect the canyon. But as a group, the organization seems to have been overpowered by the lowest common denominator. Although the goals sound noble, GCROA has a very clear economic agenda and financial interests will take priority.

   Air tour operators also have a club, whose primary mission is—you guessed it—protecting Grand Canyon. To do that, they must be allowed to make hundreds of thousands of flights over the Canyon each year, marketing vigorously and reaping vast profits. Hell, if they could make 400,000 flights a year, they could protect Grand Canyon even more. Pressing for the continued unbridled growth of their industry, air tour operators bring in busloads of pilots to public hearings who whine about jobs, their hungry children, and all those poor disabled people who have no other way of seeing Grand Canyon. Yes, this nonsense has been effective. The air tour industry has enormous political clout, as well as a supportive managing agency (the FAA) who won't yank their britches down when they start exuding such tripe.

   We don't want to go there, nor do I believe we could get away with it if we tried. Anyway, the tired old "jobs vs. environment" tirade is dubious at best. Usually there need not be a choice. Too often big corporations use this as a scare tactic to manipulate workers into standing in the way of environmental protections. Those workers are simply a means to an end for upper management. One should be highly suspicious when companies threaten loss of jobs as the only possible result of environmentally sound actions.

   It seems to me that Grand Canyon River Guides has always believed in our stated goals. We see ourselves as the first line of defense for the Canyon and for the experience, because we're down there so much and because we care so deeply. At the fork in the trail, let's not take the path of the Wise Use movement; let us remember why this organization was founded, to protect Grand Canyon.

Jeri Ledbetter

big horn sheep