Boatmen, Scientists, and the Jobs In Between


   The completion of the Glen Canyon EIS will bring a drastic reduction in the need for “science” in the Canyon. We as a community greet this coming certainty with mixed emotions. On one hand it will mean less bumping and shoving and competing for campsites on the river. On the other it means less jobs for us. For those who have become used to the extra off-season income it will be especially difficult.

   All the science has been worth it. The final outcome of the EIS, the implementation of interim flows, the base of knowledge we need to set the river ecosystem back on a healthy course is based on the many valuable research trips that have plied the river over the past 12 years. The boatmen that ran these trips deserve a lot of credit for making that research accurate and efficient. The Grand Canyon is a big place, with problems and demands that are unique. Knowledge of scientific methods and knowledge of the Canyon teamed up to save a lot of time and effort. But a disturbing trend has been developing over the past few years, a trend toward separating and strictly defining the jobs of scientists and boatmen. Us and them. Oh-oh.

   The boatman’s job description is a tough one. Few would argue though that it contains only, “Runs the boat....”. We’re cooks and medical personnel and storytellers and psychologists and councilors and teachers and garbagemen and Canyon hosts. Basically we’re problem solvers. How to make do when the truck breaks down, the boat gets ripped, a passenger gets sick, the meat gets left, the pump doesn’t work, nobody wants to go in the paddle boat, the last hiker doesn’t show, or the group dynamics crumble on Day 2. And while we do all these things we run a variety of boats through some of the most entertaining and challenging water in the world. Yeah, we run the boats, but that isn’t the half of it.

   The science that continues in the Canyon, the Long-term Monitoring Program mandated by the Grand Canyon Protection Act and the important research that remains, will need just this kind of boatman. We don’t need scientists and boatmen down there, we need boatmen/scientists and scientist/boatmen. Running the river and doing science are not mutually exclusive. Many of our community are more than capable of collecting the data necessary as well as getting the trip down the river. And they can do it in the most efficient and least intrusive manner. Likewise there are those scientific types who can learn to run a boat. And run it well. Nothing about going to college makes you hit rocks. If that were so a lot of good, though overeducated, Canyon boatmen would spend a lot more time patching.

   What we should look toward is a cadre of professionals to carry on the science. The folks must be efficient, hard working, and knowledgeable. They should be able to run boats, collect data, and give the impromptu lecture to the passing commercial or private trip. They’ve got to be problem solvers. Above all else this group must have a deep feeling for the place and how it should be treated. There may be less jobs in the future, but they’re going to be more important and more challenging. Looks to me like there will be lots of need for Canyon boatmen.

Tom Moody