GCRG logo - waves above name with sheep
  ...Into the Fire
  BQR ~ fall 1998

crg has always recognized that motorized use in Grand Canyon is far different from someone blazing along at 200 mph on a jet ski. Motors are an integral part of the river running community in Grand Canyon, and they play just as important a role in education and facilitation of the visitor experience as anyone else.

   Unfortunately, wilderness in Grand Canyon is rapidly becoming a "motor vs. oars" controversy again. Sad but true, very divisive and, as we see it, quite unnecessary. Months ago, in our initial comments to the Park about the crmp, and in the article printing those comments in the Winter '97–'98 issue of the bqr, we stated that gcrg is in favor of a potential wilderness designation for the river corridor, with "...the use of motorized craft...grandfathered in and allowed indefinitely." As appealing as this concept might be to many sides, it is not going to fly with either the environmental community or the Park Service at Grand Canyon. So now we need some serious input other than anonymous callers threatening to sue if we mention the "w" word. We need your help to make a statement about this issue.

   Following are short summaries of four different options regarding wilderness in Grand Canyon: 1) the private boater's association and many environmental organizations support the river as full wilderness right now; 2) the Park proposes the river as potential wilderness; 3) the outfitters' association recommended the river be declared a non-wilderness corridor while the rest of the canyon be declared a wilderness and 4) some folks have suggested removing the entire park from consideration as a wilderness at all. Where does Grand Canyon River Guides stand? Accompanying this is a questionnaire regarding which option you feel we should support, if any. Many people look to us for our opinions and thoughts about Grand Canyon. It would be a good thing if we could take a unified stand for something, and so far we have not been able to do so.

  Whatever is decided in the long run, we must not let rumor, speculation and most of all fear drive a wedge between us. We are, all of us, a community. Our greatest strength lies in maintaining that connection. That is what we give to our passengers, to ourselves and to the Canyon in the end.

  A Reminder: Remember that the Park has already been recommended for full wilderness status, with the Colorado River proposed as a potential wilderness. Until the recommendation is acted on, the nps is required to manage the recommended areas as wilderness. Recommending the land for inclusion in the wilderness system is only the first step. For Grand Canyon to become a Wilderness requires that an Act of Congress be presented, agreed upon, and signed. Until that happens, we can only help guide management principles for the Park and its future.

Full Wilderness Designation For
Grand Canyon and the Colorado River

• The majority of the park and the river are managed as wilderness.

• Motors and all other mechanized transport save emergency vehicles are phased out in the park and on the river over a relatively short period of time.

• The crmp planning process continues to design how the river is run in the future—what the parameters of a "wilderness" experience are in Grand Canyon. Everything about river trips is subject to debate during this process: trip length, size, crowding and congestion, technology, etc. The public will design the parameters. There are no specifics written into the Wilderness Act to define group size, trip length, number of contacts, phase-out of motors, etc.

• The Park is required to use the "minimum tool" concept in all their actions in the park, deciding what the minimum requirement (tool, regulation, regulatory presence, technology, etc.) is to complete the proposed action.

• The Park is the managing agency for this wilderness area, not another governmental agency.

• The Future: The canyon, the river and the experience visitors can have there are better protected against increase in demand and further environmental degradation and species loss. The river also gains another level of protection influencing the dam and how it is run. No matter who is in office, who runs the Park, what power demands are, who owns the companies or how many people are begging at the door, wilderness status will be the enduring protection for the canyon.

Full Wilderness for the Canyon,
Potential Wilderness for the River

• The Canyon is protected and managed as a full Wilderness, with non-mechanization, minimum tool requirement, etc. in place, as described above.

• The Colorado River is managed as a wilderness with one exception: motorized rafts are allowed to continue on the river for the time being.

• If (this is a big "If") a bill goes to Congress to designate the Grand Canyon a wilderness, there must be language in that bill that describes how the question of motors on the river will be handled. That is something we can all decide. It could be delayed to the next crmp revision process. People could decide that motor use will be phased out over the next 25 years. People could decide to pass it off to Congress entirely.

• The important thing to understand is that motors do not necessarily leave the river right away. There would be time to discuss the issue, and figure out how best to handle it so that no one loses jobs or income, and the river is still protected in all other respects.

• If a bill passes Congress to create wilderness in gcnp, the river becomes a full wilderness once the issue of motors is resolved.

• The Future: The Grand Canyon and Colorado River are protected as wilderness.

The Colorado River As Non-Wilderness Corridor

• The river is declared specifically a non-wilderness corridor while all the rest of the canyon is managed as a wilderness.

• Motors are allowed to exist "forever" on the river.

• The Future: Anything could happen. It is true that the Park is currently meeting with outfitters and other groups to discuss changes and compromises which would make trips more wilderness compatible. The problem is that these advances now being made by the outfitters, Park, guides and private boaters could all be erased with a different set of outfitters, a different park administration, new guides and a whole bunch more people who demand the right to visit their national park.

• One problem: Designating the heart of Grand Canyon as a non-wilderness corridor in the middle of a wilderness weakens all other present and future wilderness areas in the U.S. It is a dangerous precedent to set for other areas that need protection.

• A Second Problem: The ecosystems of the Colorado River will have diminished protection and less recognition of their inherent significance than will recreational issues.

Removing Grand Canyon From
Wilderness Consideration At All

• Everything stays as status quo (unless things degrade), and the changes being made right now to the crmp and other management plans take effect as soon as possible.

• The Future: See previous, but for the entire park, not just the Colorado River.

  When Grand Canyon River Guides sent comments to the Park about the Draft Wilderness Management Plan, they called for two things: 1) a unified wilderness management plan that includes the river and all other portions of the canyon (not just the backcountry trails), and 2) a plan that involves more ecosystem management and concern for threatened and endangered species and ecosystems. A unified plan that includes all aspects of the canyon will help guarantee against the same kind of increases in technology, regulation, crowding and congestion, habitat degradation and species extinction that we have seen in the past 20 years throughout the canyon.

   Okay, so where do we stand? Included in this issue is a short questionnaire which we'd like you to send in to us. Please send in your responses by the end of the year. We'll be curious to see what the results are, and we'll publish them in the next bqr—thanks.

big horn sheep