gcpba NEWSWIRE PLANNUS INTERRUPTUS - Editorial - March 4, 2000

The following Editorial will be in the next gcpba WAITING LIST. The gcpba board thought it so good, it seems appropriate to post on NEWSWIRE.

".... No, there's not going to be a revolution in river management at the Grand Canyon. But the hard fact is there never was going to be a revolution anyway."

That's a comment I received the other day in response to Superintendent Arnberger's anti- climactic statement announcing the termination of the public input process to reform Grand Canyon river management, the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP).

The current revision process began in 1995 when GCNP planners began to prepare a replacement for the poorly crafted 1989 plan, based on the hastily prepared, very flawed 1981 plan, itself a strange concoction fashioned from bits and pieces of the wilderness inspired, but aborted 1980 plan that called for river management techniques leading to the river corridor and back country wildlands being designated Wilderness.

On February 23, 2000, several hours before the Board members of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association were to meet with Superintendent Arnberger, his office issued a press release to the media, announcing the termination of the CRMP process. Rumors about the future of the CRMP had been circulating for weeks, still, we were surprised and shocked to hear the news that planning had stopped, and the important issues of access, allocation and Motors vs. Wilderness would not be dealt with before concession contracts were scheduled for renewal in 2003.

The Superintendent singled out the Motor vs. Wilderness issue, and the contention surrounding it as the predominant reason for CRMP cancellation. Arnberger expressed the opinion that the issue could never be resolved by the GCNP staff. He claimed that the resultant stranglehold on the CRMP by this issue is a valid reason for the park to abandon the public process that they encouraged GCPBA and other stakeholders to buy into for the last four years. It seems the nasty problem of insuring equal opportunity for currently 6,800 people, half of whom will wait from eleven to twenty-two years to lead their own trip down the Grand Canyon, is no longer a concern for the Park.

Arnberger's choice of aggressive inaction follows directly in the unbroken path of footprints left behind by his predecessors, a string of Superintendents unwilling to grapple the tug of war generated by the Motors vs. Wilderness issue.
Who could blame him, or them? Things are pretty "nice" down there, at the bottom of a very grand canyon. As Superintendent Arnberger pointed out, delaying a decision will not make matters worse - of course that concept excludes the steadily growing waiting list. This termination will do nothing to relieve the growing anger and ill will generated by the flagrant inequity of a system that rewards the well-heeled with easy access. Additionally, every year wilderness compatible management techniques are ignored, lesser standards become more entrenched.

The Superintendent expressed his dismay and discouragement with a process that would doubtlessly lead to the Park becoming embroiled in litigation. He told us several times that park concessionaires assured him if their allocations were touched, or motor use was mandated to be eliminated, that the park would wind up in court. He implied that he would expect nothing less from any of the other parties involved, if their polarized positions were rejected. That is probably true.

What to do? Go for the gold, punt, scuttle the ship - settle for status quo?

The environmental degradation caused by excessive over flights, the encroachment of Canyon Forest Village, the traffic mess, Hualapai claims and desires, and so on are problems cited by Superintendent Arnberger as more in need of his attention. Obviously they are very important, and we congratulate him for meeting the challenges of those problems. But, this writer cannot agree that they are significantly more important than striving for the preservation of the special ambience of the park, represented by vast wildlands of the inner canyon. That is what the visitors to the rim come to see, dream of, and be inspired by, and what travelers within those walls sacrifice to experience.

While deliberating, we can't ignore that back in 1969 the Secretary of the Interior ordered the NPS to inventory all it's lands to determine their suitability for wilderness inclusion. The responding planners concluded wilderness designation was appropriate for the back country of the Grand Canyon. Accepting that recommendation, NPS policy mandated that the area be managed in a wilderness compliant manner. Following that mandate, planners prepared administrative policy to comply. Enter the Hatch Amendment.

It would appear that the NPS planners gearbox got stuck in reverse back in 1980, when Senator Hatch (R-Utah) stalled resolution of the Motors vs. Wilderness question by introducing his seemingly omnipotent Amendment. Hatch's amendment, though legal for only one year, seems to have tumbled the aspiring Park managers from their tenuous, wilderness perch. Twenty years later we can see how well that has worked.

Surrounded by the certainty of lawsuits from the disappointed or discouraged, superintendent Arnberger might have recognized he enjoyed a certain freedom. The freedom to strive for and insist on the best from all participants, his planners, the concessionaires and the private river runners. He's missed a rare opportunity to manifest the dream of his profession, to preserve and expand for the future, that unique treasure that he has been entrusted to manage.

Instead he settled for the mediocre, leaving himself and his constituents stuck in the rut worn by his predecessors. He expresses dismay at the tired bickerings of his trudging constituents. He ignores his opportunity to provide the needed leadership to resolve these issues.

Time to switch gears. How about trying out that four speeds forward gearbox and blast us into the needed river revolution?

Editorial Deck,
Richard Martin and gcpba board

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