Critics: Canyon river plan ignores dam
By GARY GHIOTO
Sun Staff Reporter
Opponents of Glen Canyon Dam and supporters of wilderness designation for Grand Canyon National Park are outraged that the National Park Service isn't considering the issues in the revised Colorado River Management Plan.
Sue Gunn of The Wilderness Society says the Park Service is mandated to manage the river as wilderness -- that translates to no outboard motors.
That's because park officials recommended to Congress more than two decades ago that the river and more than 950,000 acres of Grand Canyon National Park be considered a wilderness area.
Though the designation is in legislative limbo, Park Service regulations are clear that until Congress acts, the river must be considered wilderness, Gunn said.
Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joseph Alston said no action will be taken on the wilderness designation until Congress acts. He said the river corridor will be managed under current backcountry regulations that protect natural and cultural resources.
"We did agree to look at the issue of motors versus nonmotors and that's sort of central to the whole wilderness issue as it relates to the Colorado River corridor through Grand Canyon," Alston said. "So we will tackle that issue and the outcome of that will, in large part, direct how the river is viewed in terms of wilderness as it relates to the backcountry management plan."
Gunn said that's not enough.
"That's pretty myopic and I think it shortchanges the American people in terms of that experience of being on that river," Gunn responded. "I personally think there is a concerted effort inside the Park Service to eviscerate the wilderness program."
The Wilderness Society, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition were among a dozen conservation groups who recently wrote Park Service Director Fran Mainella and criticized the management plan process.
The groups said holding public meetings in five Southwestern cities is "unfair to the American public" and limits the range of discussion on the pending management plan. Meetings should be scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City, Gunn said.
"The Grand Canyon is a national, an international icon. When you talk about parks ... the average American thinks of the Grand Canyon. I get the feeling this is a skewed setup," Gunn said.
Alston said there is plenty of opportunity for people on the East and West coasts to comment on the plan. Letters and e-mails are being accepted by the Park Service on a special Web site and an extensive mailing list also will solicit comments, he said.
Meanwhile, groups like Living Rivers, which wants Lake Powell drained, and the Flagstaff Activist Network are blasting the Park Service's decision not to consider the environmental impact of Glen Canyon Dam in the management plan.
Owen Lammers, executive director of Living Rivers, said ignoring the consequences of Glen Canyon Dam is a "death sentence" for the river and endangered species like the humpback chub. FAN and Living Rivers says the Park Service must "assume greater involvement and responsibility for dam operations."
Alston said the dam, which is run by the Bureau of Reclamation, is "outside the scope" of the Park Service and the management plan.
"They're choosing the wrong forum. We don't have the discretion to change the operation of the dam or the flow rate of the dam," he said.