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  Frequently Adked Questions about the "W" Word
  BQR ~ fall 1998

re you guys trying to get rid of motors?


  Just what the heck is "Potential Wilderness" anyway? Sounds like a lot of hooey to me.

   Potential Wilderness is a category that Grand Canyon National Park came up with when they made their wilderness recommendations for the Park almost two decades ago. They recognized that the river was something different from the rest of the canyon because of the motorized use, which doesn't conform to full wilderness standards. Rather than call it a non-wilderness corridor (like the Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel/Kaibab trails area), they called the river a potential wilderness. This allows for the non-conforming use (i.e. motors) to continue until resolved, with all other aspects of the river being managed for wilderness.

   Until resolved. Uh oh, you say. That means they're going to try and get rid of motors. If a wilderness bill is sent to Congress, everyone gets to decide how, when and under what circumstances that happens. This is a very important point to understand. It means that the river has the potential to be a full wilderness if we ever reach a point where we all decide to agree. This will take the public wanting it, the guides, the outfitters, Congress and the Secretary of the Interior.

   The fact is that even right now, if all of those people wanted it, the Park could remove motors—they don't have to wait for wilderness protection. The Park could limit overflights, change trip size, cut user-days, and anything else if they wanted, all without wilderness protection. It's their park—we just work there. It would take tremendous public support and agreement from all sides before any such drastic action as removing motors would be taken and that's just not going to happen any time soon. If we ever all agree on these issues, we would have a chance to resolve them, because the river wasn't left less protected as a "non-wilderness corridor".

  Why not just work for Wild and Scenic protection? Why is Wilderness so all-fired important?

   Wilderness is the only type of protection that deals specifically with the experience of the visitor to the wilderness, not just with ecosystems and threatened and endangered species. Wild and Scenic designation complements wilderness' emphasis on preserving ecological processes. Also, with the canyon as wilderness we have the chance to work for an integrated landscape with protection for lands and ecosystems around the canyon. The larger the area protected, the more chance we have of keeping the place healthy, and possibly bringing back some species that are gone from the area. Wouldn't it be cool to perhaps one day see a wolf drinking from the river as you float past Nanko?

  Why not just let the Park Service manage the place—Isn't having a National Park good enough?

   Not necessarily. The NPS has a dual purpose: to protect lands and to promote visitation and access (i.e. building things, paving roads and trails, making interpretive signs, etc.). The increase in people wanting to visit the parks has placed greater pressure on the parks to develop and promote visitation, despite an amended Organic Act emphasizing preservation over use. In the past 20 years, since the last Wilderness recommendation was scrapped, there have been increases in almost everything that takes us further and further from protective management: crowding, congestion, noise, inappropriate technology, law enforcement, outside regulations, and substantial habitat degradation. Nine native species have become extinct in the last 20 years alone.

  With wilderness protection, what's to prevent trips from being reduced to 12 people maximum or never allowing two groups to see each other, as it is in other wilderness areas?

   All of us will. This whole CRMP planning process is a public process to do just that: figure out between all of us what are the acceptable guidelines for wilderness in Grand Canyon. The Wilderness Act purposefully doesn't deal with the details of the experience, only the broad concepts. We can create our own vision for this place, not rely on anyone else's. That's the cool part.

  Great. More government added on top of the Park. Do we really need that?

   We don't, and this won't add any more governmental agencies to the Park. It is specifically written into the Wilderness Act that if wilderness is declared in an area that is currently managed by another agency, that agency will continue to be the managing presence. Wilderness protection simply provides an extra layer of protection and a set of parameters to live by when considering decisions regarding the natural resources and visitor experience. In fact, wilderness protection is a great way to get other agencies (i.e. Coast Guard, Health Department, etc.) off the river, because a minimum regulatory presence is one of the common threads to wilderness management.

  Are outfitted services threatened by Wilderness protection?

   No. There are outfitters running trips of all kinds in wilderness areas throughout the country, everything from two-person fishing trips to full river trips. The Wilderness Act states that "Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this Act to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas." The Park recognizes the value and importance of the outfitters and the role they play in Grand Canyon.

  What about private boaters and access to the river?

   This is an issue that won't go away any time soon. In the past, the Park has simply increased allocation to accommodate demand. Demand is going to increase, every year, and every decade. Even when we figure out the current mess, demand will continue to grow. Wilderness protection guarantees that solving the problem of increasing demand by increasing allocation is no longer an option and that other Wilderness compatible solutions must be sought.

  Won't wilderness designation create some sort of "elite" outdoor club in which only the few energetic healthy people who want to go into the canyon for a long time can go?

   No. Anyone who wants to can still visit the canyon and does not need to go down the river in a kayak for 16 days with a loin cloth and a knife for support. Professionally guided trips provide access to a wide spectrum of folks. That's our job.

  Glen Canyon Dam made sure the Colorado River through Grand Canyon isn't a "natural" ecosystem. Why try and protect that any more than we're already doing?

   You're right. Forget the beaches, forget the chub and the willow flycatcher. Forget all the species of birds who have begun to use the river corridor because of the 280 miles of new riparian habitat that have formed there (as much as 99% of the original riparian habitat in Arizona has been destroyed since settlement began, most of that in the last 4 decades, and Grand Canyon is one place in the state where there is new habitat forming).

  Are there any other national parks that are also wilderness areas, either completely or in part?

   The nps manages a larger amount of wilderness than any other agency: 43 million acres, most of which is in Alaska.

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