February 23, 2000
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
For Immediate Release
Maureen Oltrogge (520)638-7779
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK MOVES IN DIFFERENT DIRECTION WITH PLANNING EFFORTS FOR RIVER AND BACKCOUNTRY
Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Robert Arnberger announced a decision to halt any further work to merge the planning process for the Colorado River Management Plan and draft Wilderness Management Plan into a single planning effort through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Both planning efforts are identified in the park's 1995 General Management Plan (GMP). Primarily focusing on the developed areas of the park, the GMP included vision and management objectives for undeveloped areas as well. The plan called for the revision of the park's 1988 Backcountry Management Plan and suggested the park's 1989 Colorado River Management Plan be revised when needed to conform to GMP management objectives.
A decision was reached by the park to undertake the development of a revised Colorado River Management Plan and public scoping of issues began in 1997. A draft Wilderness Management Plan and Environmental Assessment (EA) (intended as a revision of the 1988 Backcountry Management Plan) was prepared and released to the public in 1998. Although the purpose of the draft Wilderness Management Plan is to provide park management guidance on how lands contained in the land-based "proposed wilderness" areas will be managed, the plan quickly became confused with the Wilderness Recommendation - a proposal which awaits congressional action.
Throughout the planning process issues were identified by the public that were complicated by the lack of wilderness designation, including the use of motors on the river, user day allocation between commercial and noncommercial users, the closures of roads in proposed wilderness areas, and appropriate administrative use.
Over the last several years the National Park Service (NPS) has dedicated substantial financial and human resources to address these issues through the two planning processes and associated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance. The most recent undertaking examined the possibility of combining the two planning efforts and completing the necessary EIS for this expanded effort. However, polarization among the backcountry and river user groups and interests have intensified to the point of reducing the park's ability to bring together divergent perspectives toward collaborating and reaching acceptable resolution.
Due to the inability to resolve many of these issues prior to the resolution of the park's wilderness recommendation, and to the lack of available fiscal and human resources to complete a comprehensive planning effort, the NPS will halt work on any further combined planning effort and on the Colorado River Management Plan. Further effort to merge the two planning efforts into an EIS will be deferred until such a time as congress formally acts upon the wilderness recommendation and/or until the NPS has both the financial and human resources to complete planning and NEPA compliance. The current Backcountry Management Plan approved in 1988 and Colorado River Management Plan approved in 1989 will continue to be the guiding documents for management. National Park Service Management Policies require areas recommended for wilderness or potential wilderness designation, to be managed as wilderness. No management actions will be allowed that would endanger the wilderness designation.
The decision to halt the process of combining the two plans is clearly within the discretion of the Superintendent. "It is not without some level of trepidation that I make this decision as we have invested significant time, energy and money in these efforts. It was not made in a vacuum; numerous staff briefings and discussions with a number of parties were held to seek input and guidance," stated Robert Arnberger, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent.
"The decision to halt this process is not a decision to halt progress on the resolution of key issues," Arnberger continued. "There have been actions and initiatives taken to date, either concurrent with planning or separate from that activity that can, and will, bring us benefits. We will continue to seek improvements, within the parameters of National Park Service Policy and other guiding documents, to those issues identified by the public."
Some of the improvements that the NPS has been working on include:
- A computer program, the Grand Canyon River Trip Simulator, may provide the NPS with an increased predictive ability to simulate river traffic based on modified launch schedules. The service is exploring the application of this tool to better manage use for resource protection and visitor experience on the Colorado River.
- Although the NPS will defer major changes in the allocation of river use between the commercial and private sectors until revision of the Colorado River Management Plan can be carried out, it will examine the possibility of reallocation of user days at the contract renewal stage in three years, and other possible administrative actions.
- Over the last several years changes have been made to the permitting system for private river launches and backcountry use that are aimed at streamlining the system and fees charged. The NPS will continue to seek improvement through analysis and public input, and make changes that will benefit the system.
- Further park guidance on administrative use in proposed and potential wilderness areas will be developed and provided to park staff. Guidance will be based on applying the "minimum requirement" concept to all administrative activities that affect the wilderness resource and character. The minimum requirement is a process for determining the appropriateness of all actions affecting wilderness (or in the case of Grand Canyon, proposed and potential wilderness). It incorporates the concept of minimum tool, which refers to an activity that makes use of the least intrusive equipment, regulation, or practice that will achieve the wilderness management objective.
- The park, along with the Department of the Interior, will continue to work with commercial river operators in the research and deployment of quiet and clean motor use. Commercial operators have already voluntarily converted over 90% of their engine inventories to quiet engine technology.
- The NPS is negotiating an agreement with the Hualapai Tribe. The agreement will provide guidance for management of the river along disputed boundaries.
- The NPS will continue analysis of issues brought forth by the public relative to land-based "proposed wilderness" to determine the feasibility of completing the Wilderness Management Plan and EA.
With this decision, park staff will direct their attentions to many of the other planning efforts currently underway that continue to command a great deal of park resources. Some of these include: the accomplishment of the Noise Management Plan, pursuant to overflights legislation and FAA regulation; completion of an agreement with the Hualapai Tribe for management of the river corridor along disputed boundaries; implementation of the GMP involving the completion of Canyon View Information Plaza, the park's transportation/orientation center; implementation of the mass-transportation system, Greenway, and Heritage Education Campus.
Everyone that has been involved in the public process will be notified of this decision and informed of further opportunities for input. Additional information can be obtained by writing to Superintendent, Grand Canyon National Park, Attn: Linda Jalbert, Outdoor Recreation Planner, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 or on the park's web site at www.thecanyon.com/nps, click on Future page. Comments can be sent to Ms. Jalbert at the above address or by email to: email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org
2:00 p.m., MST/February 23, 2000
The above decision by the Park has forced the GCPBA board to seriously consider legal
options in resolving over 20 years of mismanagement of the allocation issue.
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