A new version of the River Paddling Protection Act, HR 3492, was sent to the full House of Representatives yesterday when it passed in the House Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent. The bill was amended to address concerns voiced by American Whitewater, the National Park Service and others, and is now a much stronger piece of legislation. The bill now clearly requires the Park Service to take a hard look at paddling without limiting their management discretion or legislating an outcome of that analysis. The bill will ultimately help thousands of Americans connect with the rivers flowing through Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in a healthy, low impact, and environmentally sustainable manner.
The new version gives the National Park Service three years to come up with new management for paddling, after which the 60 year old outdated paddling bans will expire. It also ensures that the Park Service has normal discretion to manage paddling like other activities.
American Whitewater now fully supports the River Paddling Protection Act, HR 3492. We ask that AW members across the country contact their representatives and voice support for this bill. We are especially appreciative of Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) for introducing this bill and the members of the House Natural Resources Committee for approving it. We will post the new version of the bill here when it is posted online.
Questions and Answers About HR 3492
Q: What value does HR 3492 have?
A: Paddling is an ancient, healthy, widely-supported and low-impact way for Americans to connect with nature and our public lands. Allowing people to experience Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks though paddling rivers builds support for land and water conservation, and federal designations across the country. It also offers visitors the chance to directly experience these special rivers and landscapes in an awe-inspiring and sustainable manner. Banning paddling in Yellowstone would be akin to banning climbing in Yosemite National Park or hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park - it has profound and unnecessary impacts on people that live nearby and visitors from afar. Lifting this ban will enrich many lives and support the connection between outdoor enthusiasts and support for wild protected places.
Q: Would HR 3492 lead to tubing on park rivers?
A: No. It is standard practice for the NPS and other river managers to limit floating use by requiring specific equipment like 1) life jackets, 2) helmets, 3) craft specifically designed for river travel including kayaks, canoes, and qualifying inflatables.
Q: Would HR 3492 require that all rivers be open to unlimited paddling all the time?
A: No. HR 3492 requires that rivers be open to paddling "as determined by the director of the NPS," which ensures the NPS has their normal range of discretion for limiting paddling. With this authority the NPS can employ standard recreational management tools to ensure natural resources are protected. Practically, in most cases paddlers could be managed in concert with other front and backcountry visitors without any need for special limits. Where needed additional limits could be implemented. In the most extreme case, there may be places where even low impact recreational activities are unacceptable during some or all of the year to protect sensitive wildlife or other park values.
Q: Would HR 3492 require that rivers be opened to paddling without an analysis?
A: No. The bill grants the NPS three years to consider the issue and develop some management rules prior to lifting the 60+ year old regulations.
Q: Is paddling a new activity in these Parks?
A: No. Paddling has occured in Yellowstone National Park for at least a century. For example, the famous conservationist Olaus Murie canoed the upper Yellowstone River with his sons in the 1920's.
Q: Can Yellowstone and Grand Teton afford to analyze and manage paddling?
A: Yes. All other National Parks, National Forests, and BLM units that have paddling resources allow and manage paddling within their budgets, and Yellowstone and Grand Teton can too. It is part of their job as federal land managers.
Q: Is HR 3492 aimed at benefiting a small group of extreme sports participants?
A: No. The rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton offer everything from scenic family-friendly canoeing, to multi-day Class II-III packrafting trips, to world-class whitewater opportunities for all ability levels. Records of arrests made in Yellowstone show at least three father and son canoe trips ending with federal charges. HR 3492 will help a new generation of Americans of broad ability levels and interests get out of their cars and connect with a very special landscape and suite of rivers.
Q: Why was paddling banned in the first place?
A: Paddling was banned on the first day of fishing season in 1950 to prevent the overfishing that was occuring in Yellowstone in the post-war era. Grand Teton followed suit several years later for unknown reasons.
Q: Would paddling require new infrastructure like parking lots, trails, and fencing?
A: No. Paddlers will generally use existing infrastructure. If paddling certain rivers would benefit from limited infrastructure enhancements then the NPS can consider it just as they would consider enhancements for other activities.
Q: Why is HR 3492 necessary?
A: The NPS has cited the 60+ year old federal-level regulations that ban paddling as limiting their ability to even consider allowing paddling during normal park management planning processes. With this said, the NPS could analyze and allow paddling but refuses to do so. HR 3492 would require them to take this hard look and initiate modern river management in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Q: How do other parks manage paddling?
A: Paddling is allowed across the National Park System. Most often visitors to front and backcountry are managed with the same permits, limits and access areas whether they are hiking or paddling. On the rare high-demand rivers limited entry permits may be required that are specific for paddling.
American Whitewater's initial testimony on HR 3492, the River Paddling Protection Act, which aims to replace old management rules on paddling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.