Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hualapai-GCNP Cooperation: An Experiment

The on-going story of managing river traffic through the Grand Canyon delights those who love complicated, detailed, fragmented complexes of issues. (See my Hijacking A River.) One story piece that has had less attention than it deserves concerns the lower river, the western end of the Canyon. This is variously described: 
The upper end of Lake Mead, fluctuating from the Grand Wash Cliffs up to a maximum at ~river mile 235, which not accidentally is at the Bridge Canyon site for the Hualapai Dam. Informally, this reservoir section is identified as starting near Separation Canyon (r.m. 239.5), and for some is the "flatwater" stretch of the Canyon. 
Another reference point to start is at Diamond Creek (r.m. 226); going down, it is described as the lower 40 miles.
Above that, other reaches are of connected interest, up to Whitmore Canyon and the Hualapai's helicopter landing spot (r.m 187 or 189.9 ?).

Before 1975, Lake Mead National Recreation Area administered the right bank while the 1883 Hualapai Reservation owned the left down to r.m. 273.3, with the common boundary being undefined, a matter that concerned nobody much as long as the usual assumption was that a dam was to be built that would flood the Canyon back to Kanab Creek. Once that assumption was reversed (1968), and Grand Canyon National Park was extended in 1975 along the south (left) bank to the Grand Wash Cliffs, the exact GCNP-Hualapai boundary became a contentious matter -- as I have described in several earlier posts. This Park enlargement removed LMNRA from the Canyon near the river, while leaving river trip end points like Pearce Ferry under LMNRA jurisdiction. 

The river management regime set up by GCNP was hugely concerned with river traffic down to Diamond Creek. Below that, there was less GCNP interest, even to the point that LMNRA had more expertise and say, especially when the reservoir was high and the water flat and sluggish. Today, with the water flowing past Pearce Ferry and beyond, it is clearer that GCNP-NRA cooperation for traffic management is a continuing necessity, just as is true for the river trip starting point at Lees Ferry in Glen Canyon NRA just upstream from the Park's beginning at the Paria River. 

Motorized, up-river boat traffic from the lower reservoir has been an object of desire and a matter of concern for over 60 years. Even earlier, the Park Service and others fantasized about scenic tours that would go up into the Canyon as a regular visitor service. Lack of interest and the difficulties of navigating among the silt deposits helped quash that idea. It does, or did, happen that motor craft come up-reservoir to meet and tow river trips to the developed boat landings like Pearce, South Cove, and Temple Bar. And there was no  great regulation of those who wished on their own to take Zodiacs and other such boats upstream from the Grand Wash Cliffs. Today, upstream traffic may go to Separation. 

This comparative lack of rules and GCNP interest also applied to river trips that did not end at Diamond Creek, where many exit with all their gear and boats up to Peach Springs. River concessionaires took advantage of the bifurcated jurisdiction to use helicopters near Whitmore to transfer river passengers in and out  of the Canyon, with those coming in getting a shorty trip of a couple of nights or so. So it was not unusual for commercial companies to go to the reservoir to end their trips, loaded or not. 

The Hualapai interest in the part of the river bordering their land has taken many forms. As far back as the 1930's, Hualapai thought of how they could benefit from the river as a resource, either dammed and/or for its recreation & visitor potential. Their tribal involvement in lobbying for a dam waned in the late 1970's and appears extinguished. Their claim for a share in river traffic has correspondingly grown, showing itself in the 1970's in a mixed tribal/whitefolk attempt to run trips. The Diamond Creek exit/entrance and the helicopter transfer spot near Whitmore have become important income generators. At present, the Hualapai's greatest involvement is their industrial tourism complex involving Las Vegas-generated visitor groups that take in the Skywalk development above r.m. 265, a motor-raft ride off a boat dock, a walk to Travertine Falls, and a helicopter swoop-in, landing near Quartermaster above r.m. 260. (For details, see http://grandcanyonwest.com/.)

As of 11 Oct 2000, GCNP, LMNRA, and the Hualapai entered into a memorandum of understanding that 1. recognized the longstanding dispute over the GCNP-Reservation boundary, 2. accepted that the dispute interfered with effective river management, and 3. therefore committed themselves to mutual management of an Area of Cooperation. That Area  went from r.m. 164.5 (eastern Reservation boundary) down to Pearce Ferry, and across the river from high water mark to high water mark. They agreed that the tribal chairperson and the two superintendents (or their alternates) with Working Teams should meet once a quarter, using a facilitator (the ubiquitous Mary Orton). It was all quite formalized and respectful. 

The context for the MOU had been set earlier by then-Superintendent Arnberger, who in the late 1990's had been dealing with updating backcountry (wilderness management) and river management plans. In 1999, he had started a simultaneous public process for both plans. Then, perhaps alarmed by the enthusiastic, even raucous, public interest, had abruptly stopped the effort in February 2000. This occasioned an even more intense storm as well as a suit demanding the process be re-started. (See Hijacking A River.) So when the first joint meeting was held a month later, in March 2000, Arnberger had to reassure the other participants that he was committed to carrying out the idea to draft a Memorandum and then meet substantively. However, he only attended one more meeting, in May, and by the fall was gone, reassigned to Alaska, although he did sign the Memorandum of Understanding on 22 September.

Nevertheless, the idea had staying power and regular meetings were held thru October 2004, with Arnberger's successor, Joe Alston, attending. There was then a three-year interruption, which started as NPS staff was preparing the Environmental Impact Statement for the new river plan.  Meetings had been set through January 2005, but none were held after October 2004.  A meeting in September 2007, with new GCNP Superintendent Martin attending, was followed by two more. However, after that of January 2008, the experiment ended, and the Agreement to disagree-but-work-together was formally suspended. Since minutes of 8 Oct 2004, 10 Dec 2007, and 29-30 Jan 2008, being unapproved by the parties, were not supplied to me, I am left without that source as to what happened. Certainly, there was disagreement by the Hualapai over the river plan. However, more than speculation will have to come when other sources are available. In the next post, I will use the minutes to summarize what the experiment did accomplish.

Source: Grand Canyon National Park, response to FOIA request for Memorandum of Agreement and consequent meeting minutes from 2000-8, except that minutes of 8 Oct 2004, 10 Dec 2007, 29-30 Jan 2008, being unapproved by the parties, were not supplied.

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