Protect the Grand Canyon for present & future generations<br>

The National Park Service (NPS) has extended the deadline for comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP) to Feb. 1, 2005. This planning process represents an important opportunity to restore wilderness and protect the special ecological, cultural and recreation resources at the heart of Grand Canyon National Park. Unfortunately, the Park Service’s preference, Alternative H, treats the Grand Canyon river corridor as a scenic tour route rather than a priceless natural resource to be preserved for present and future generations.

The Grand Canyon is much more than a spectacular piece of scenery. It is a link to our past. The concept of setting aside wild places that represent the beauty, solitude and power of nature is an important part of the American psyche. It is important to all of us that there are places left where the opportunity exists to experience solitude and nature as it might have been hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Today, the wilderness character of Grand Canyon National Park is diminished by noise from scenic tour flights, motorized raft trips and visitor traffic. Valuable habitat in the Grand Canyon is at risk. The Canyon’s beaches are disappearing at a rapid rate, largely due to impacts from Glen Canyon dam. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of people traveling each year through the Canyon’s river corridor, from 2,100 in 1967 to over 22,000 currently.

The Colorado River Management Plan provides the Park Service a significant opportunity to develop and implement alternatives that allow people to enjoy and experience the Colorado River in Grand Canyon while protecting its amazing natural resources and wilderness character. Yet the Park Service’s preferred alternative, H, calls for an unsustainable increase in visitors to 26,317 each year.

The Park Service is required to restore natural quiet, an important and increasingly rare backcountry resource, yet Alternative H allows up to 1,000 helicopter rides in and out of the river corridor each year. The Park Service recommended most of the Grand Canyon river corridor for wilderness designation in 1980, yet Alternative H allows motorized travel six months out of the year and the Draft EIS fails to address preservation of wilderness character as a significant issue.

The Park Service is mandated to prioritize preservation of the Grand Canyon’s unique values above all other concerns. The agency needs to be reminded of its mission by those who see Arizona’s state symbol as more than just a scenic route. Comments asking the Park Service for an alternative that places paramount importance on the cultural and natural resources of the park can still make a big difference to the future of the Grand Canyon.

The chosen alternative should phase out motors and helicopter exchanges on the river. These are intrusive, incompatible with the preservation of wilderness values, and can be more than compensated for with oar trips and traditional and appropriate means of transport such as hiking, horseback, and mule rides. The canyon is well worth experiencing on its own terms. Such an experience has been proven possible for everyone, including those with disabilities.

Trip sizes, overcrowding during all seasons, and encounters between trips should be significantly reduced. The Park Service should address trip permitting in a way that is both equitable and recognizes that protection of the Colorado River requires setting visitation at a sustainable level.

Nothing less than the integrity of our National Park system and the protection of its crown jewel are at stake. These things, and respect for the process that gives us all a say in how our lands are managed, are worth taking a few minutes to write the Park Service a letter.

For more information about the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter’s Campaign to restore and protect the greater Grand Canyon ecosystem, contact Roxane George at 928-775-6514; roxane.george@sierraclub.org. For the draft EIS or to submit comments, go to: http://www.nps.gov/grca/crmp/.

(Roxane George is Grand Canyon Conservation Program Coordinator for the Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter.)

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