River Management 1981-1990, Running from Wilderness

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In March, 1980 the Mountain States Legal Foundation, on behalf of nine concessioners and 51 private citizens, filed a suit against the Secretary of Interior (Andrus) challenging the portions of the CRMP directing elimination of motorized rafts.

The Hatch Amendment

In November, 1980 the “Hatch Amendment” was added to the one-year 1981 Department of Interior Appropriations Bill. This Amendment prevented the use of appropriated funds to implement a management plan for the Colorado River which “reduces the number of user days or passenger launches for commercial motorized watercraft excursions, for the preferred use period [May 1 through September 30], from all current launch points below that which was authorized for the same period in calendar year 1978.”

The Hatch Amendment caused the Mountain States Legal Foundation lawsuit to be dismissed.

On December 23, 1980 a number of Senators, including Orrin Hatch, sent the Park Service Director a letter directing that the current CRMP be “amended by the most expeditious methods which are legally defensible to accommodate the 1978 level and pattern of commercial, motorized watercraft access.”

The Hatch Amendment “only precluded enactment of the plan for the one-year life of the appropriation bill.”

On March 3, 1981 the Park Service held a meeting regarding how to revise the CRMP in response to the Hatch Amendment. The Park Service decided that “no additional NEPA documentation is required” to revise the CRMP.

The Park Service stated that they have “a political commitment to issue a revised (or amended) plan in a timely manner.” The Park Service did not see “a need for extensive public meetings” before amending or revising the CRMP, and determined that the “Hatch figures should be the basis of the plan until adequate research can prove revised figures are needed.”

In response to the Hatch Amendment, the Park Service determined that the “overall philosophical approach of the [CRMP] has to be rewritten to reflect the choice of motors or oars and the river experience as opposed to wilderness per se.” In response to the Hatch Amendment, the Park Service determined it would need to “eliminate the Wilderness Experience subheading” in the CRMP, and the Park Service determined it would need to “eliminate [the] Phase out Motorized craft” heading in the CRMP.

The Park Service conceded that the “revisions to the 1980 CRMP were “politically driven . . . [and] done in the absence of additional public involvement” or NEPA compliance. Virtually all references to wilderness management in the 1980 CRMP were deleted in the 1981 revision.

The 1981 revisions to the CRMP were made without any input from the public or scientific community or National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) compliance. The Park Service responded to the one-year Congressional appropriations bill – the Hatch Amendment – by revising the CRMP in 1981 and reversing its decision to eliminate motorized use of the Colorado River. A new, revised CRMP was finalized in December, 1981. The revised CRMP “retained motorized use and the increase in user-days that had been intended as compensation for the phase-out of motors, resulting in more motorized use of the river.”

In 1989, the Park Service revised the CRMP, once again, to address increasing resource impacts caused by the 1981 revisions to the CRMP. The 1989 revision to the CRMP was intended to “supplement existing management guidelines and directives . . . [and] serve to update and revise the 1981 [CRMP].”

The Park Service’s 1989 CRMP notes that review of the 1981 CRMP indicated a need to provide equal means for the public, non-commercial sector to access its permit allocation in light of a 77% increase in the non-commercial waiting list since 1981, and the 1989 CRMP retained the commercial and non-commercial user day allocations established in 1979 but added 38 non-commercial launches in the summer so that non-commercial river runner use approached its allocation capacity.

The 1989 CRMP retained use levels and use periods established in previous plans, and retained motorized use of the Colorado River corridor.

The Superintendent of the Grand Canyon stated that the 1989 revision to the original 1980 CRMP “did not provide a rationale to explain the incongruity of motorized rivercraft being used with the river corridor’s potential wilderness designation. We can only state that the 1989 [Revision] was developed in response to the perceived regional political environment at that time. The [Revision], however, is clearly contrary to the instructions provided by the Wilderness Act and the Service’s own management policies concerning the use of motorized equipment within wilderness and the responsibility of the agency to administer potential wilderness areas so as not to degrade their wilderness values.”

According to the Park Service’s Wilderness Coordinator, “[a]lthough [the Hatch] amendment to a single year appropriations bill conflicted with wilderness considerations specified in the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act and the Wilderness Act, the Park Service drastically modified the proposed Colorado River Management Plan to accommodate the Hatch Amendment language.”

Click here to go tp the next section of this history, called River Management 1990-2000, Wilderness Rekindled.

Click here to return to The Politics of River Running in Grand Canyon page.