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RRFW Riverwire – Grand Canyon Litigation Update
August 30, 2008

The National Park Service has submitted a response to a legal challenge to the 2006 Colorado River Management Plan in Grand Canyon National Park. The case is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The groups challenging the park's river plan include the non-profit River Runners for Wilderness, Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch and Living Rivers. The four groups filed a lawsuit against the plan just days after the Plan was finalized in March, 2006.

Two groups, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters (trade) Association and the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, also submitted 9th Circuit responses, as interveners in the litigation in support of the Park’s current river plan.

An Amicus Brief (“Friend of the Court”) was filed August 11, in support of the present river plan, by the Grand Canyon River Runners Association, Grand Canyon River Guides, Chicago Whitewater Association, and Elizabeth Brubaker.

The plaintiff groups challenge the Park Service's lack of justification for the need for and appropriate levels for Grand Canyon National Park's concessions use of motorized tour boats and helicopter exchanges.

The plaintiffs also challenge the Park Service's commercialization of the river. At present, 14,385 concessions passengers travel along the river with 2,270 self guided river runners during the same summer season, a ratio of over 6 commercial guests to each do-it-yourself river runner.

In the briefs filed previously with the court, the plaintiffs note that the "NPS' allocation of river permits unfairly favors concessioners at the public's expense," and argued that the NPS used no identifiable or appropriate standards to measure demand, as required by a 9th Circuit case on Grand Canyon river permit distribution from the 1970s.

The Plaintiffs’ brief also notes the "NPS violated the Organic Act by authorizing motorized uses that, combined with other uses of the river impair the Grand Canyon's natural soundscape."

An earlier Amicus Brief was filed on May 23, 2008, in support of the plaintiffs’ challenge to the present plan. Signing onto this brief were the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association, Californians for Western Wilderness, Friends of Yosemite Valley, Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, North West Rafters Association, Olympic Park Associates, the Western Lands Project, and wilderness and river recreation author Roderick Nash.

With regard to permit allocations, the amicus parties state that the “use allocation selected by the Park Service in the CRMP is arbitrary and capricious, because the Service fails to allocate in a manner that ‘is necessary and appropriate for the public use and enjoyment of the park’ and ‘will enhance visitor use and enjoyment of the Park’ in conformance with the Concessions Act and its own policies implementing that Act.”
The coalition will have until October 17, 2008, to submit a reply to the just-released documents and then the case will be set for oral argument before the 9th Circuit in late 2008 or early 2009.

River Runners for Wilderness and its partner groups are represented by attorneys Julia Olson of Wild Earth Advocates and Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center.

The recently filed documents, along with all earlier court documents filed in this case, have been posted as PDF documents on the River Runners for Wilderness web site. The documents may be viewed at: http://www.rrfw.org/crmp.php.

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