Monday, March 23, 2015

Study 3: 1976: Should the Park Include the Canyon's Adjacent Canyons and Plateaus?

The passage of the 1975 Act re-drawing the GCNP boundary launched four studies.
The first, to check whether the northern areas incorporated from the Monument were suitable for Park status, had been completed by NPS within the year and found the lands belonged in the Park. End of story. Well, except that I learned through talks with NPS officials that BLM had objected to being considered part of the recommendation, so some language had to be adjusted. There was also a bit of a flap over the cost.

The second, of Wilderness, covered in my book on river management, Hijacking A River, but not in this blog, was completed by NPS within the mandated period, and a near-perfect recommendation sent to the President, at which point the commercial motorboat operators and their allies prevented the recommendation from being sent to Congress. 1980 brought the Reagan administration that deep-sixed the wilderness proposal. Not quite the end of the story; the recommendation remains viable, awaiting a change in the political environment. 

The fourth study, the Secretarial Land Use Plan for the lands added to the Havasupai Reservation, was under the jurisdiction of the Havasupai themselves and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It took several years. I will deal with it later.

The third study was not set up in as clear-cut a manner as the others. First, it was not mentioned in the legislation itself, but was instead ordered by the conference that resolved differences between the House and Senate. Not even really a compromise, it was what Representative Udall could salvage from the opposition to actually adding to the Park certain prime pieces of the Canyon's north side. Second, the areas involved were not officially designated, though named in the Conference's report, and they had been included in the map approved by the House. Third, the Interior Secretary was directed to do a study and send the recommendations to Congress, but without any sort of due date. What was clear was the instruction "to study these areas to determine if they, or any part of them, qualify for national park designation" and report those findings to Congress.

Given these ambiguities, the story that unrolled in the near term (1976), and then hiccuped to an apparent end (1977-81), became another tale of bureaucratic turf battles. Frank Collins of the DSC had spear-headed the expeditious review in the first study, and other DSC staff had helped him while putting together an excellent Wilderness recommendation. Both studies were NPS tasks, accomplished within one of its divisions. Collins attempted the same press-ahead, workmanlike approach to the third, Adjacent Lands, Study. His effort took the major part of 1976, at which point it came to an abrupt end in November. The rest of this entry recounts that effort. Once stopped, and with no repercussions obvious, internal NPS processes worked the study to the point where it came into public view in late 1977, only to receive such a bad press & public review that it was difficult to detect any signs of life until 1980, when it was resuscitated to the point of producing a fine report in the very first year of the very most anti-environmental Interior Secretary, James Watt. That the study survived to the report stage is a source of wonder; no doubt it was now considered toothless. Those years (77-81) will be covered in the next installment.

The Park Service, working through its Denver Service Center (DSC), was occupied in 1975 with the first study. The Wilderness re-study became a major effort later in that year and into 1976. Given the location (see map below) of the adjacent lands of the fourth study and the fact that the same employees started on all three, there was certainly some familiarizing and early thinking done in 1975, and in the early weeks of 1976, Collins began putting together a task directive. Contact was initiated with the Forest Service and BLM, which were to be full participants on this study. 

Park advocates were deeply concerned with all three studies. The favorable outcome of the first study meant there was little for us to do. The Wilderness re-study required much effort starting in 1975 & 76, and continuing into 1977, because of public hearings and the subsequent political lobbying by the motorboaters. 

We started slowly on the adjacent lands, although spurred to some degree by a flurry over uranium prospecting (for a summary, click on the Mining tab in my blog for the entry on Exxon, 1974-7). This pointed up, not just the need for Park protection, but the scattering of attention caused by the fragmented administration of the Canyon's northern lands. For instance, BLM and the Forest Service were both active in considering wilderness potential, but also had to deal with the mineral and grazing issues.

One pleasant note was struck early by a Robert Jones who sent us a long report supporting inclusion of Kanab Canyon in the Park. Also in February, I wrote the Museum of Northern Arizona curators of geology and biology--both heavily active in Canyon research--asking them to help us prepare by suggesting how and from whom we could gather relevant material. After all, when we argued for adding the areas during congressional legislation, we depended mostly on the obvious topographical relationships. The coming studies would overcome that limitation by utilizing broader and deeper expertise. However, even by the end of 1975, NPS was still only at the stage of having made a request to be the lead agency on the adjacent lands study, with BLM and the Forest Service as full partners. The western Regional Director wrote me in November that official action might start in a few weeks, leading to the task directive being drawn up by DSC, followed by field work.

Using the contacts I had established with the DSC staff, I learned from Frank Collins early in 1976 that NPS had been designated by Interior as the lead agency on 8 Dec 1975. The Forest Service would be represented by Regional Forester Hurst, and BLM by State Director Buffington. This was confirmed in a 14 Jan letter from western NPS Regional Director Chapman. The schedule was set when the regional heads met to discuss the task directive in Phoenix on 22 Feb. Field work was to start in the spring. Lake Mead NRA secured a spot on the study team, and in March there were meetings of all concerned that led to a memo on their cooperation by 8 March. This was the same time that I sent a joint memo to those regional heads, urging that the character of the Arizona Strip, its federal ownership, and the fame of the Canyon strongly suggested that cooperation among the three agencies through joint studies, planning & decisions was the desirable direction to take. 

I talked with LMNRA superintendent Briggle and the BLM state director, neither of whom was particularly enthusiastic about more land going into the Park, but would be open-minded, not just obstructionist. In a way, this was remarkable, given that the mandate of the study was somewhat weak. I suppose, given that some in NPS were excited by the study, and thus likely to push it anyway, the other agencies saw no benefit in outright objecting. I kept checking with the principals, trying to determine the temperature of the cooperation. 

The expected adamant opposition was expressed at a Park Service meeting with hunters & conservationists on 23 March, ending any thought of open-minded consideration from those who had scuttled the additions during congressional consideration; there seemed to be no greater willingness to come to an agreement even on what data was needed or how it could be collected. Given that, it was even more remarkable that the BLM state director was still cooperative, given his own conclusion that NPS wanted a Park-oriented study, not an overall resource use study. 

In mid-March I recorded my impressions from a drive out to the end of Whitmore Point, where I looked out over the Whitmore & Parashant-Andrus Canyon additions. My notes record being very impressed by the landscape -- "one of the finest points for variety & complexity (not to say a confusion) of geology -- processes, structures, drama: the middle space view". The formations were not the canonical layering, but took different forms, confounding easy comprehension. There was a curious sink, and I could see the Redwall trenching into Parashant Basin, "wide-openness dripping into narrowed canyon". The fault line running on across the river seemed clear. Toward Whitmore, there were elaborate channels, and the large lava flow. There was a unity in the overall view, but each section had its own character -- uniqueness and diversity.
 I also had a view of the several roads, very visible all over -- including the obvious cuts of new roads put in by Exxon as it searched and drilled for uranium prospects. Sheep obviusly used the entire point. (Much of the view would have been in the Park under the House-passed boundary.)

The task directive was being written by Collins for consideration at joint meetings in Phoenix. Over 400 kac would be considered, with 8 teams involved in various aspects. In mid-March there was a draft "Task Directive, Adjacent Lands Study, Grand Canyon National Park". After the meeting, Collins worked on it throughout April. The directive noted the study's ambiguities, but was able to come up with acreages: Parashant-Andrus: 83 kac, Whitmore: 28, Kanab: 211, Shivwits: 84. (My files do not contain the 1976 DSC version of the study areas; this map is from the 1977 draft.)

 Collins thought the little "beak" on the south side of the river needed a look, too. The "final product" would be the determination whether land qualified for Park. However, in addition to employing the NPS criteria for parklands, there would also be an "objective analysis" of uses for economic gain in "the best interest of the public". Study of all resources would lead to "feasible boundary alternatives" including deletion, addition and designation of agency. The goal was to reach a common recommendation, although dissenting opinions were provided for (expected?). The public would be involved soon after the directive was approved. Intensive data accumulation would follow. The agencies would then review any work products, after which there would be public workshops. A draft of the data findings and alternatives would then be prepared leading to a final document that would be reviewed and discussed by the agencies.

Collins reported on the meetings in late March and early April. March 21-2, Collins showed the map to the regional heads, who labelled it as too ambitious, and the study area then was scaled back to what the conference had considered plus 12 kac in the western part of the Park. The Forest Service asked for a full EIS, and NPS RD Chapman agreed, though Collins objected that that was not NPS procedure. There would be an increase in joint meetings. The area administrators (NPS Sup'ts, Kaibab Supervisor, BLM Strip Mgr) were to be directly involved.  Each agency would notify its interested user groups.

In the meeting, Chapman & Collins squabbled about costs, with Collins pushing for enough to produce a "creditable document". He feared delaying the study or starting it with inadequate funds. This "lets-move" attitude might have indicated his commitment to respond to Park advocate concerns. That is, we lost in the House because of political pressures, not because the lands did not measure up. Were the study inadequately done, this would just be another political defeat (as reflected in the NPS team's attitudes, informally expressed to me.)  Collins stressed the need for the study team to do the field work to strengthen its credibility. The material presented to this joint meeting was all from NPS, which curtailed useful discussion, and led to delay until the other agencies could review the material. 

Detailed discussion underscored NPS commitment not to extend the study area boundaries. Collins wanted to end-run NEPA, but Chapman still sided with the Forest Service stand on an EIS. However, Collins developed procedures to leave the EIS decision up to the Secretary after alternatives were developed. The Regional Forester also suggested delay until 1979 so his agency could avoid re-programming funds. Collins argued for moving ahead, so as not to lose momentum and be criticized by Park advocates. FS & BLM planning procedures were to be reviewed and used to adapt this study to make it more truly an intergroup affair. The matter of the EIS was left hanging.

Collins' next report was on the 1-2 Apr meeting in Phoenix with GCNP Sup't Stitt, representatives fromBLM, FS, & state Game & Fish, plus the Cattle Growers' and hunters' reps. The last three made immediately clear their opposition to any further expansion of the park. Collins and BLM disagreed over whether the former should write the task directive with suggested input from others. This was followed by a long filibuster from the hunter lobbyist presenting his list of (irrelevant, in my opinion) considerations. Game Dep't staff said the wildlife belonged to the state, and NPS should keep its hands off. In contrast, the Forest Service seemed almost agreeable, ready to name its study staff. In another meeting, with archeologists, they and Collins discussed a research design.

In a letter to McComb, I suggested that my stress on cooperation and his stress on NPS being more aggressive (which seemed to match the stance Collins was taking) came together to reinforce each other. 

In any case, I asked Congressman Udall to send a letter indicating his continued interest in the study, which in early April he did, writing to the Interior Secretary that he "remained convinced of the desirability of adding these lands to the national park." With three agencies involved, claims for various uses "will be fully considered". Interior replied that field work would begin soon, and consultation with one & all will take place. 
At the same time, however, in a letter to a DSC team member, I expressed my sense of the wariness & tension, and even outright anger, evident in the meetings on planning. 

The three agencies met in Phoenix to discuss the task directive in late June.
NPS had decided the Snap Point boundary would be its job, and BLM State Director Buffington encouraged NPS to recommend elimination of any lands where possible. The Forest Service talked of looking at the rim somewhat. It still did not have any dollars for the study, although BLM had scheduled one man-year for 1977.

Field trips were to be held in August to collect data

Knowing of the hunters' history, I responded to their dug-in position with a 28-point list attacking their case. The points all boiled down to our basic case that the areas we wanted were not much, if any, hunted, and that the hunters always responded with numbers that added in prime hunting areas, even though they were not at issue. It seemed as if the study preliminaries had become just a re-hash of the arguments before Congress in 1974.

The regional officials met in September. There had been some field trips, but completing the task directive was the only item on the table. 

The Forest Service sent its comments on the NPS draft task directive on 1 Oct. 1976. They included their multiple-use arguments: 1. The Kanab area is in a Wilderness study area and the GC  Game Preserve. 2. The land is "open to hunting". 3. Wilderness can be managed along with livestock grazing and game management. 4. FS was now studying range capacity (and I had been told by local FS staff that they were moving to eliminate grazing in this very fragile canyon). 5. Recreation is a prime use by hikers and riders; trailheads are above the rim. 6. There is no timber. 7. Watershed management is a use, though there are no perennial waters. In short, Kanab Canyon was entirely suitable as national "forest", although most of the Forest Service description pointed to its Park qualities. The FS seemed to think it important that the task come up with a "preferred alternative" instead of a conclusion, still wanted an EIS, and to delay for a couple of years.

BLM comments likewise included a policy statement, but without specifics. In line with Buffington's views, BLM did not want the study to be directed too strongly toward a park recommendation. Collins' detailed responses tried to hold his document together, while accepting some of their points. His review of the other agencies' comments was careful to avoid editing their policy statements, and to avoid a fight over recommendations, letting the regional chief level develop a final position. He argued strongly for a public workshop to maximize broad public response. FS repeated its desire to postpone work for a couple of years. For Collins, this cast doubt on the entire process, so he pushed the view that until full participation was assured, the public should not be involved, since the FS seemed not to be fully positive about cooperating. Other suggestions by FS, he opined, do not seem appropriate for a study of this limited a scope and could involve much more effort than necessary. 

Abuptly (as far as the documents I have show) in mid-October, Sup't Briggle of Lake Mead made a fuss about looking at any NRA lands, which made no sense at all, since the study lands were not related to the lake, and had always been conserved for their relationship to the rest of the Canyon, not the reservoir. I tried to dissuade him from that position, without success. There may well have been more intra-NPS tensions than I knew. In any case, RD Chapman decided to side with Briggle. Then, and only through the grapevine, I learned that Collins had been dropped as leader. When I contacted Chapman on 1 Nov, he said Collins' study would have cost too much, taken too long, and been "too upsetting". Therefore, the project was being taken away from the DSC and brought into the Regional Office. Collins' task directive was to be reviewed. Until that was done, the study process was put on hold.

And that seemed to be that. Putting someone in charge who was pro-Park had not worked. Almost a year passed in silence. 

Sources: From my files, in part notes I made at the time, and in part, documents that were made available to us. The latter stress the NPS-DSC point of view.

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