NPS to propose boat rule for Grand Canyon

The National Park Service is proposing the extension of rules for boating on the Colorado River through part of Grand Canyon National Park to the landmark's entire 277-mile river corridor.

The proposal, set for publication in the Federal Register on Monday, would extend existing limitations for boating on the 226 miles of the river in the Grand Canyon upstream from Diamond Creek to the last 51 miles of the waterway that ends at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The proposed rule would require that all commercial boat trips on the Colorado River in the park, including those operated by local Native American tribes like the Hualapai, be authorized by the Park Service via permit, contract or other agreement.

The proposal also requires that all noncommercial river trips be authorized under a permit issued by the park superintendent and allows the park chief to limit or alter permits issued for use of the Colorado River.

The Park Service's goal is implementing portions of the recently revised Colorado River Management Plan, finalized in 2006 to address the effects of nearly 30,000 visitors who take river trips in the park every year.


"Recreational activities along the river corridor in the park may impact the park's natural and cultural resources (including resources possessing wilderness values), the experiences of park visitors, park operations, and adjoining American Indian tribes," the proposal says.

Along with the new boating regulations, the proposal also calls for updates to visitor-use restrictions on the river while closing several shoreline camps to protect natural resources. The rule also loosens restrictions for swimming, picnicking and bringing pets on river trips.

Environmental groups have long been critical of the management plan for the river, claiming that the park's continued authorization of motorized watercraft damages wilderness characteristics of the waterway. The park recommended the river for wilderness designation in 1980, but the proposal has never been carried out by Congress.

In 2007, a federal district judge in Arizona rejected a lawsuit from several environmental groups asking for the management plan to be thrown out (Greenwire, Nov. 29, 2007).

The groups, which include Boulder, Colo.-based River Runners for Wilderness, argued that the plan fails to preserve the canyon's wilderness characteristics, but Judge David Campbell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona concluded that the Park Service can allow motorized rafts under its own rules and followed the law when it developed its new plan.

Campbell wrote that the park's policy of managing "potential wilderness" as wilderness "does not require the Park Service to remove non-conforming uses -- in this case, motorized rafts. It requires the Park Service to manage the Colorado River corridor as wilderness to the extent possible given the existing use of motors."

The groups have since appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Click here to view the proposed rule.

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