HISTORY OF THE GRAND CANYON

TIMELINE OF KEY EVENTS
1893 The Grand Canyon receives its first federal protection as a National Forest and Game Preserve via a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison.

1908 President Theodore Roosevelt issues a proclamation creating Grand Canyon National Monument, the precursor of Grand Canyon National Park.

1916 Congress creates the National Park Service.
1919 Congress establishes Grand Canyon National Park.
1938 Professionally-outfitted river trips begin on the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park.

1953 Regularly scheduled motorized river trips begin in the Grand Canyon.
1964 Congress enacts the Wilderness Act, which requires a survey of all federal lands, including Grand Canyon National Park, to identify areas to be recommended by the President for possible designation as wilderness by Congress.

1971 The Secretary of the Interior forwards to the President a proposed Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation that, due to the historic use of motorized watercraft, does not include the Colorado River. The NPS states that it plans to continue such motorized use.

1972 President Richard Nixon submits his official Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation to Congress. Mirroring the NPS proposal, roughly 500,000 acres of the park’s backcountry, but not the Colorado River corridor, are included.

1973 The National Park Service publishes a final environmental impact statement for a newly proposed Grand Canyon wilderness classification. This document states that, “the Colorado River was excluded, for the present, due to usage of motors on float trips. Use of motors on the river will be phased-out by the end of the 1976 season.”

1975 Congress enacts the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act, doubling the size of the park to 1.2 million acres. In considering this legislation, Congress specifically rejects designating any lands within the park as wilderness at this time. Instead, this legislation establishes a new two-year deadline for the Secretary of the Interior to deliver to the President a wilderness recommendation for the enlarged areas of the park.

1977 Before the completion of the river planning process, the NPS Director signs a final wilderness recommendation for Grand Canyon National Park that identifies 980,088 acres of the park as suitable for designation as wilderness, and 131,814 acres, including the Colorado River corridor, as suitable for designation by Congress as “potential” wilderness. This recommendation is not transmitted to the Secretary, but is held in abeyance pending the completion of the initial Colorado River Management Plan.

1979 The NPS releases the Colorado River Management Plan draft environmental impact statement, announcing its intent to phase-out motorized use on the Colorado River over a five-year period. Substantial controversy erupts.

1980 The NPS submits to the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks a revised final Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation, classifying 980,000 million acres of the park as “recommended wilderness” and 132,000 acres, including the Colorado River corridor, as “potential wilderness,” which presumes the eventual elimination of motorized use.

1980 Congress adopts an amendment offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to the FY’81 Interior appropriations bill that states: “None of the funds appropriated in this Act shall be used for the implementation of any management plan for the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park which reduces the number of user days or passenger-launches for commercial motorized watercraft excursions, for the preferred use period from all current launch points below that which was available for the same period of use in the calendar year 1978.”

1981 The NPS sets aside its 1979 river management proposal to ban motorized use on the river, and instead implements a revised Colorado River Management Plan that requires motorized use to continue. The dichotomy between the agency’s wilderness recommendation that would require the removal of motorized watercraft if enacted by Congress, and the agency’s management plan (and resulting concession contracts) that require such motorized use, is born. At no time since has the agency’s Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation been formally transmitted to any Secretary of the Interior or to any President, nor by any President to Congress, despite the statutory obligation to do so that originated with the Wilderness Act of 1964, and was repeated with a new statutory deadline of 1977 in the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act of 1975.

1989 The NPS implements an updated Colorado River Management Plan that continues to require motorized recreational use on the river.

1993 The park superintendent transmits an updated “Final Wilderness Recommendation for Grand Canyon National Park” to the NPS Director. He includes a plea for action to eliminate motors on the river and to encourage Congress to enact a Grand Canyon wilderness bill implementing the NPS proposal, which identifies 1,109,257 acres as suitable for designation as wilderness, and 29,820 acres, including the 12,190 acre Colorado River corridor, as suitable for designation as “potential” wilderness.

1997 The NPS initiates a long-awaited Colorado River Management Plan revision process. The effort is stymied by confusion and controversy arising over the unclear legal vitality of the agency’s Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation, given its lack of official transmittal first to the Secretary, then by the Secretary to the President, and finally by the President to Congress. Wilderness advocates argue that NPS wilderness management policies require, given the Colorado River corridor’s classification by the NPS as “potential wilderness,” that the agency immediately eliminate motorized use on the river.

1998 The NPS releases for public comment a Draft Wilderness Management Plan. This plan covers most of the park’s backcountry areas, but not the Colorado River corridor. Significant confusion results over the distinction between a NPS wilderness review and recommendation process, and a NPS administrative management planning process. Such confusion continues to linger.

1998 The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands conducts an oversight hearing on the park’s draft Wilderness Management Plan.

1999 The Department of the Interior prepares the internal “Grand Canyon Wilderness Matrix” document. This document concludes that because motorized use on the Colorado River is “transitory in nature,” the NPS is not obligated under the law or its wilderness management policies to eliminate such use in a proposed “potential wilderness” area.

2000 The NPS suspends work on both the draft Wilderness Management Plan and the Colorado River Management Plan revision processes. The park’s superintendent specifically cites the lack of congressional direction on the wilderness issue as a principal reason for this decision.

2000 Private boater and wilderness advocacy groups and individuals sue the NPS over its decision to suspend the wilderness and river planning efforts and its decision not to immediately remove motorized use from river. Settlement negotiations commence.

2001 A settlement agreement is achieved that results in the dismissal of the case, and a NPS commitment to resume the Colorado River Management Plan revision process. The river concession contracts are extended for three years to the end of 2005, the statutory limit.

2002 The NPS officially resumes its Colorado River Management Plan revision effort.

2004 The NPS releases the draft Environmental Impact Statement as part of its Colorado River Management Plan revision effort.




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