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Grand Canyon Court Case Decision Released

Posted: 12/03/2007
By: Kevin Colburn

On November 26th, District Judge David Campbell issued his ruling to uphold the 2006 Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP). At issue in this case was the continued use of motors and the allocation between commercial outfitters and recreational river runners.


Plaintiffs who challenged the plan included River Runners for Wilderness, Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch, and Living Rivers. Defendants included Grand Canyon National Park along with Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association and Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association as intervenors.


Although American Whitewater participated in the development of the Grand Canyon River Management Plan, our organization was not a party to this lawsuit. Management of the Grand Canyon remains an important issue for our members, and we will continue to be engaged in the implementation of the new CRMP and review of it's effectiveness over the next several years.


Plantiffs argued that the 2006 CRMP is unlawful and should be set aside. The question before the Court was not the decision the Park Service made but whether that decision was reasonably supported by the Administrative Record. Courts are not to interfere with reasonable agency decisions rendered within areas where Congress has authorized the agencies to act, and in this case the Court concluded that Congress has delegated the responsibility for management of motors and use allocation to the Park Service.


In developing the CRMP the Park Service did take some critical steps towards reducing the use of motors on the Grand Canyon and increasing the number of user days for recreational river runners. Motors are prohibited from September 16 through March 31, 3.5 months longer than under the previous management plan. The allocation has also significantly changed from 113,083 user days for commercial operators (74,260 motorized and 38,823 non-motorized) and 58,048 user days for recreational river runners, to 115,500 to commercial operators (76,913 motorized and 38,587 non-motorized) and an estimated 113,486 days to recreational river runners. This represents a change from 66.5% commercial and 33.5% recreational to 50.4% commercial and 49.6% recreational. In addition the decades-long wait list has been replaced with a weighted lottery that provides enhanced opportunities for those who have never had an opportunity to experience the Grand Canyon.


American Whitewater worked hard to obtain these provisions which we believe represent improved opportunities to enjoy this resource for recreational river runners. Over the next 10 years we will actively review its success as we await the next opportunity to revisit the management plan. We welcome input from members who have had experience (good or bad) under the new plan.  We anticipate a formal survey and report in the coming couple years that addresses the new plan's effectiveness.


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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American Whitewater has long worked on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. From fighting dam proposal decades ago, to advocating for equitable access in the recent development of a new management

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