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  Where do we go from here?
  The News ~ fall 1992

here is a river that slips quietly through the corner of Canada’s Yukon Territory, a piece of British Columbia, and into southeast Alaska. It traverses the highest coastal range in the world and until the mid 1970’s was the exclusive domain of wolves, bears, moose and the occasional trapper. At that time a small group of river runners from the arid southwest began taking folks there to experience the wildness. I was lucky to be one of that group. But a big part of that wildness came from it’s lack of human presence and I found it quite a shock when we finally ran into the first “other trip”. It occurred to me then that I was in many ways responsible for taking some of that wildness away.

   Our world often contains the keen blade of the double edged sword. Our very act of visiting the wilderness takes something from it’s wildness. But intimate knowledge can also provide the basis for good stewardship. Today a large open pit copper mine threatens the Tatshenshini River drainage and the voices raised in protest come largely from those who have known and experienced that wilderness. I feel better knowing that my impact on the Tatshenshini is now working to protect that river from a larger threat.

   Our situation in Grand Canyon is much the same. For all its visitation the Canyon is still a wild place. There are canyons without name, grottos without sound, and labyrinths that still afford the opportunity to lose oneself. For all the superlatives that have been used to describe its parts, it is more than simply the sum of its parts. It is a synergy. And what strikes the river visitor most is the sum; the feeling, the experience. We as boatmen work hard not to quantify that experience, to feel it rather than describe it. The names of the formations are not as important as the part they play in the Canyon as a whole. But in the early 80’s we realized the need to quantify the effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the river below if we were to correct them. We turned to science. It became necessary to break that miraculously complex system into its many component parts and look at each separately. Since 1983 science has been a constant part of the river experience in Grand Canyon. That presence peaked last year at more than 18,000 user days with an intense gathering of data for the Glen Canyon EIS. This year research trips have used less than 40% of that total.

   This research represents our double edged sword. Its presence has impacted the visitor experience; the knowledge gained has sometimes led us to focus on one constituent part and lose sight of the whole. Yet we owe a great debt to Dave Wegner and the many researchers for their time, their commitment, and their untiring efforts to understand this creature in an effort to return balance lost to the system with the closing of Glen Canyon Dam. These understandings have made two things very clear, 1) the system is indeed amazingly complex, and 2) there is not a single, simple solution that will bring the system back to balance. As long as the dam’s presence prohibits the river’s natural system from regulating itself, a long-term management system must be set in place that can adapt to changes over the decades to come. With the passage of the Grand Canyon Protection Act and the conclusion of the EIS at hand, our task is to define this system of adaptive management.

Micro vs Macro Management

   This is perhaps our greatest challenge. Now we have looked at the components one by one, trying to make sense of the whole. Do we now manage each component or do we reassemble them and manage the whole? This can be called the choice of micro-management and macro-management. The river was once a self regulating system of macro-management. Each component’s importance came from its contribution to the whole. It is critical that we do not attempt to manage each component independently but instead restore the river’s own processes whenever possible. To macro-manage. It is less important that any one beach be restored than that the Colorado’s process of erosion and deposition be restored, that the chub’s habitat and life cycles be preserved, that the river’s natural processes be returned.

An invisible hand

   We have a responsibility to keep the manager’s hand as unobtrusive as possible. For all of its majesty the Canyon is an intimate place as well. One of quiet and solitude. The river carried out it’s management elegantly, subtly, almost invisibly. We can do the same. Our long-term monitoring program, an absolute necessity, should be as elegant as the river’s own. The need for understanding and the time restraints over the past 10 years have often forced us to explore the bowels of our patient. Now we must develop the means to take the patient’s pulse, regularly and accurately; adjust her medication from time to time. Hopefully by doing so we will rarely if ever have to go into her bowels again.

   That is the challenge we place on science. Restore the balance, repair the whole. The components of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon are the cloth of a synergistic robe. A sum which far exceeds the parts. Find a way to monitor the pulse without removing the patient’s robe. For that robe is important to our human ability to experience the Canyon. Give us elegant methods, worthy of a place like Grand Canyon. It can be done, and the men and women who have brought our understanding this far are the ones to do it.

Tom Moody

big horn sheep