Monday, September 6, 2010

GCNP Boundary: B & F: A comment on the NPCA Grand Canyon report

NPCA & the Park boundary; a case to the point

The National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) released last month a report on GCNP, covering a number of park-related matters. Their section on the Park boundary along the Colorado with the Hualapai and Navajo indicates a lack of familiarity with important information about some of the same issues I have been writing about. Here are my comments in purple, following their text in black.

From pp 71-2, NPCA, "State of the Parks; GCNP", Aug 2010

The park and the Hualapai have also worked to address boundary disputes. The Hualapai Reservation was established in 1883, Actually, the Executive Order of 4 Jan 1883 confirmed the 1881 military reservation 
years before the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park. This is tendentious misinformation; The Powell-Harrison GCNP bill was introduced in 1882. Had it been as easy to do a Park as a Reservation, the GC Reserve would have happened 10 years earlier. 
The legislation establishing the reservation Wrong. The reservation was established by presidential order.
 indicated that its northern boundary was the southern shore of the Colorado River; Wrong. The EO used phrases like: on the river, to the river, along the river. Southern and shore did not appear. That indeed was the ambiguity that Congress took care of in 1975
thus, the federal government contended that the river was not included within the reservation, Wrong. The fed never "contended" any such thing. The Indian Claims Commission did make a decision; Congress in 1975 did fix the boundary. Some Interior bureaucrats have since "contended", mistakenly, that the 1975 Act acquired land for the Park on the south to the high water mark
 but instead was a 108-mile boundary between the park and the reservation. To the Hualapai, the Colorado River is the backbone or hakatai’a of their lifeline, and they believe the center of the Colorado River is within their lands. Discovered by the Hualapai attorney when the tribe learned that the fed wanted to build a dam using their land. This point was adjudicated by the Indian Claims Commission, but not in the Hualapai's favor. And of course, the point is that the 1975 GCNP Enlargement Act cleared up any ambiguity by setting the Park boundary on the south bank at water's edge.
 The Department of Interior clarified the boundary through a solicitor’s opinion formally sent to the tribe at their request that places the bound- ary at the historic high-water mark on the south bank of the river; Wrong. The solicitor opinions (there were two) did not clarify, they muddled. By ignoring the history of Congressional action and intent, the solicitors' work invalidated itself by claiming Hualapai land 
the tribe did not accept this placement. Since 1975, NPS has had the authority to work outside the Park on protecting and interpreting the Grand Canyon with other agencies and entities, especially the Hualapai. It has largely failed to do so. Had cooperation started 35 years ago, instead of falsely claiming Hualapai land to the high water mark, much good might have been accomplished. 
In early 2000, the Park Service and the Hualapai signed a memorandum of under- standing formalizing a government-to-govern- ment partnership, acknowledging different interpretations of the boundary, but agreeing to cooperatively address the area of dispute in the Lower Gorge, now identified not as the bound- ary, but as the “Area of Cooperation.”  NPS would be better advised to obey the law, and do its job instead of trying to undo what Congress accomplished. The notion that NPS can thwart the will of Congress by waving away the boundary is moot on its face. It may be that NPS is afraid to deal with the Hualapai as their activities affect river traffic and Park visitors, but that doesnt give it the power to scrap the boundary for an "Area of Cave-in".

A related debate also exists with the Navajo Nation over the park’s boundary as defined by the 1975 Enlargement Act. The park administra- tive boundary defined by this law included Marble Canyon lands, an area also included within the lands of the Navajo Nation. The 1975 Enlargement Act was passed with the intention of meeting Navajo concurrence, but concurrence was never given. Of course not. Again, NPS had the authority to work with the Navajo on protection and interpretation of the Canyon, but has not done so. 
 A solicitor’s opinion supports the Park Service’s contention of the boundary location, one-quarter mile east of the Colorado River and the Canyon Rim. There is no NPS "contention";  to the contrary. The 1934 Navajo Boundary Act and NPS actions over the last 70 years make clear that the Park Service has yielded and never acted upon any assertion of jurisdiction over the east side of Marble Canyon. The Navajo Reservation, like the Hualapai, comes to the edge of the river.
 Though interaction with the Navajo continues, the boundary contention remains unresolved. The GCNP administrators over the past 35 years have had ample opportunity to show their willingness to cooperate under the 1975 Act's grant of authority. They have failed to do so, to the Canyon's and the public's detriment. Since NPS has never asserted any jurisdiction over east Marble, I doubt that "unresolved" is accurate. Substitute for "remains unresolved" the phrase "is a dead issue for all concerned".

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