Virgin River Comprehensive Management Plan Approved
Springdale, Utah - In 2009, 38 segments of the Virgin River and its tributaries were designated as wild and scenic rivers and added to the national wild and scenic rivers system by the Omnibus Public Lands Act. As part of this effort, the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management prepared a joint comprehensive river management plan (CMP) to examine various impacts and management alternatives for the Virgin Wild and Scenic River, and to plan for the protection of river values – such as fish, wildlife, and recreation.
The draft Environmental Assessment of the CMP was made available for public review and comment during the late summer/early fall of 2013. A total of 64 written comments were submitted from various agencies and groups, including American Whitewater, Pikes Peak Whitewater Club, San Miguel Whitewater Club and Utah Whitewater Club.
The National Park Service responded to American Whitewater’s comments on the Plan, which included concerns with flow limits for boating in Zion National Park, as well as a request to discuss the compendium planning process and the policy of designating boating flows. In response, the Park has stated that if changes to boater use are proposed in the future the public will be informed and comments will be solicited before any decision is made. At this time, flow limits will continue for both the Zion Narrows and Temple of Sinawava segments of the Virgin River.
While American Whitewater suggested that the flow limits for the North Fork Virgin River appear to lack clear scientific basis, the Park has reinforced that public safety, user conflicts, and potential impacts to native fish were determining factors in creating flow limits. Until future notice of any proposed changes to limits on boating flows, paddling on the North Fork of the Virgin River above Temple of Sinawava, will only be permited when flows are between 150-600 cfs. Paddling on the North Fork Virgin River below the Temple of Sinawava, will only be allowed at flows above 150cfs.
In February, the National Parks Service issued its Finding Of No Significant Impact regarding the Plan’s Environmental Assessment (EA), and identified a preferred management strategy that places an emphasis on resource protection, and recreational activities that are compatible with resource protection. The Plan includes the following strategies:
- Each Virgin River Segment will be managed using specific indicators for visitor use and capacity.
- Visitor use will be maintained or possibly increased, though the wilderness permit system or group size limits will not change.
- Interpretive and educational materials will be developed related to wild and scenic rivers
- Efforts to decrease impacts from illegal livestock and non-native plants will be increased.
- Daily use limits (permits) will be considered for La Verkin Creek, and may be considered for Taylor Creek.
- A formalized approval process will be initiated for flow limits for hiking canyoneering, and boating for the North Fork of the Virgin River.
- For the North Fork Virgin River below Temple of Sinawava, visitor use limits and additional trails will be considered, and levees or armoring of river banks will be minimized.
More information on the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Virgin River can be found at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/zion