Join Date: Dec 2004
The Grand Canyon Driftwood Canary Editorial July 29
The Driftwood Canary
Recently there has been discussion of whether or not the March 2008 High Flow Experiment denuded the Colorado River in Grand Canyon of its driftwood, wood used by river runners to keep warm in the winter.
Driftwood used for warming fires may actually be the canary in the coal mine, helping us to see that by increasing do-it-yourself winter river trips by a huge amount and failing to equitably redistribute demand for summer recreational river running activities, direct resource impacts may be occurring.
The disappearance of driftwood is nothing new for this last winter season, as Grand Canyon National Park staff expressed concern last year about the lack of driftwood after the 2006-2007 winter river running season (cite [email protected])
Letís look at the numbers. The 2005-2006 winter river running season saw roughly 318 river runners who might have wanted to burn wood in a fire, while the 06-07 and 07-08 winter seasons saw 1,855 river runners each winter season who might have wanted to burn wood in a fire (cite CRMP ROD and FEIS).
That was a 500% increase in winter river participants for the last two winter river running seasons.
But thatís just the middle of the winter. The driftwood burning season starts October 1, and runs through April 30, so the above figures should also include the 200% increase in the fall and spring river trips, where river running use went up from 1,370 to 2,926 in the shoulder seasons (cite CRMP ROD and FEIS).
On top of this huge increase in winter river running, the High Water Experiment (HME) was in early March 2008. Driftwood was noted to be in very short supply by NPS staff in April of this year.
One can reasonably suggest there was very little driftwood BEFORE the flood removed what little was left. I would offer that there is no data to show the March 2008 High Flow Experiment (HFE) was a primary cause of stripping the river corridor of driftwood in various reaches, and offer instead that there was very little left after the two previous heavy winter's burning.
It makes perfect sense to say that a majority of the driftwood that lay in the system prior to the HFE was gone after the HFE. But, what is not answered by that statement is this: Had most of the riverís driftwood already been burned and only very little remained just before the Flood?
During my once-a-year trip through Grand Canyon in February of this year, I too, noted what Park managers had stated, mainly "an increase in tree damage at many camps -- in other words -- folks stripping trees in an effort to find dry firewood" and agree with them 100% that "THIS IS A PROBLEM." We saw this damage BEFORE the Flood flow.
(On a side note, as a member of the boating public, I only am allowed to float the canyon once a year as a result of the new 2006 management plan, so my and the rest of the boating public's visual and photographic ability to directly concur or offer alternative reasoning to noted resource degradation is very limited.)
It may not be politically correct for the NPS to say so, but to be fair, the NPS MUST CONSIDER the implementation of the 2006 CRMP as the cause of the disappearing driftwood. The crafters of the 26-74 summer, 100-0 winter user -day split, called by some 50-50, may just be responsible for this.
Iíll say it again, because we all need to be sure we look at all possibilities here. If managers do not equitably redistribute demand for summer recreational river running activities and increase winter river trips by a huge amount in an attempt to respond to non-concessions river trip demand, direct resource impacts may be occurring. The NPS must consider this as the real reason for the lack of driftwood.
No doubt I will be attacked by the backers of the 26-74/100-1, er, I mean 50-50 plan, as being against increasing trip starts for do-it-yourself river runners. I certainly support increasing do-it-yourself trip starts. What I am saying here is that when members of the river running community settle for access first, while putting the resource second, resource degradation is just what we should expect to see. Solving the equitable river access question should not come at the expense of the resource and the quality of the river trip itself.
Regardless of where the driftwood went, either up in smoke as I suspect, or downriver by the flood flow to be politically correct, or both, our options are limited. We can bring our own firewood, as some folks do, using rocket boxes full of split oak. Some folks will, like me, try the fake propane fire. Like me, they may realize that one of the qualities of a winter river trip is a real honest to goodness fire, not a heatless glorified tiki-torch. We can plan ahead, loading up driftwood early in the day for use later in camp. We can also advocate for equitable river access, not some half-baked 26-74 summer, 100-0 winter user-day split called by some 50-50, which may be adversely impacting the very resources of the Grand Canyon.
What we can NOT do is tear up the living and dead standing vegetation along the river corridor. If we river runners continue to do that, as much as I hate to say it, NPS managers will have no choice but to pull the regulation switches, and winter rafters will be forced to follow the summertime fire rules, that of bringing your own or going without. And weíll call that 50-50 as well.
River Runners for Wilderness
Arizona Field Office
PO Box 30821
Flagstaff, AZ 86003-0821
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