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Press Release: Lawmakers, Conservationists Demand Public Process at Grand Canyon to Protect Wild River

Letters counter request to strip Wilderness consideration and to reverse 25 years of National Park Service recommendations.

June 27, 2003

Washington, D.C.— On the heels of recent public meetings addressing Park Service management of the Colorado River at Grand Canyon National Park, wilderness champion U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and 27 other lawmakers have delivered a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, urging her not to eliminate the Colorado River from wilderness protection at the park. Twenty-three grassroots conservation groups—representing thousands of citizens across the nation—sent a similar letter to Norton, asking that she allow the river’s public planning process to continue.

“The sheer number of grassroots groups that signed on to our letter and the thousands of citizens they represent shows the depth of concern that people have for the Grand Canyon," said Michael Painter, coordinator of Californians for Western Wilderness. "They wish to see the Administration live up to its duty as a responsible steward of America's lands by allowing everyone—not just select industry groups—to have a say in the management of our natural jewels."

Wilderness is one of several alternatives the park must consider for river management. In May, with little fanfare or public notice, 10 western lawmakers wrote Secretary Norton requesting that her department halt any further consideration of Wilderness designation for the Colorado River as it flows through Grand Canyon National Park.

“If Secretary Norton grants this request, it will be the latest in a string of anti-wilderness assaults from her Department,” said Mike Matz of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness. “The strategy is to deliberately cut the American people out of having any voice in decisions about their own public lands, leaving nothing for future generations to enjoy.”

Concerned that such a request was made without public participation, Rep. Grijalva and members of the grassroots conservation community sent letters to Secretary Norton urging her to follow a more inclusive, balanced process – as has been started by NPS – for managing the wild heart of the Grand Canyon. Since September 2002, NPS has conducted five scoping sessions across the nation, conducted stakeholder workshops, and amassed more than 50,000 individual comments. Citizens in Flagstaff participate in the river planning process in 2002.

“Raul Grijalva’s attitude toward wilderness in Arizona is in the spirit of Mo Udall and others who have chosen that champion path,” said Donald Hoffman, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “We can’t thank the Congressman enough for moving to the front of the pack and speaking out for the protection of Arizona’s outstanding wilderness resources.”

The meetings earlier this week in Phoenix were one more attempt by the Park Service to gather the multitude of stakeholder concerns about river management before they develop a preferred alternative. A particularly contentious issue—the 20-year wait for self-guided “do-it-yourself” river runners—continues to intensify as more and more people discover they can run the river themselves.

“The cherished wilderness experience valued by non-motorized river users and canyon hikers rests on quiet and natural sounds with no intrusion of human motors or mechanization, but it has been significantly impacted at the Colorado,” said Kim Crumbo of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, who has worked closely on the Coalition’s resolution proposal. “Our conservationist’s proposal significantly improves the self-guided river runners’ access to the river while retaining the existing commercial services by lengthening the primary river running season.”

A wilderness designation recommendation for a portion of the Grand Canyon has been pending since 1977, when the Director of the National Park Service first recommended statutory wilderness protection for more than one million acres of the park, including the Colorado River. Then, in 1980 with the creation of the Colorado River Management Plan, the NPS recommended “potential wilderness” status for the river and to phase out motorized use of the river by 1985.

However, an amendment to the 1981 Department of the Interior Appropriations bill, sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on behalf of the commercial outfitting industry, overrode the phase-out and paved the way for continued motorized access on the river. Twenty years later, Senator Hatch is still lobbying on behalf of motorized outfitters as one of the cosigners of the letter to Secretary Norton seeking an end to wilderness considerations. The public planning process will allow wilderness to be considered at the Colorado.

“The National Park Service should be allowed to listen to people who don’t want to listen to motors in the Grand Canyon,” said Rob Smith, Southwest Regional Director for the Sierra Club.  “If the Grand Canyon isn’t wilderness, then what is?”

The effort to strip wilderness protection from the Colorado River goes hand-in-hand with three recent DOI actions that conservationists say constitutes a nation-wide wilderness assault. Secretary Norton has resurrected a loophole from an outdated mining law – known as RS 2477 – to give away road rights-of-way through protected federal lands to special interests; revoked her department’s wilderness inventory handbook and issued directives not to consider any more lands for potential wilderness designation in Alaska or across the West; and is now considering appealing a wilderness case to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to prevent the American people from going to court to enforce environmental protections.

“We hope Secretary Norton uses this opportunity to illustrate Interior’s commitment to protecting our treasured public lands,” said Ron Tipton of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The wild nature of the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park is vital to the park’s health and to the enjoyment of the park’s millions of visitors each year.”

For more information, contact:

Don Hoffman, Executive Director: 928-339-4426;


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