Tuesday, February 11, 2014

River Paddling Protection Act

Packrafting Thorofare Creek, Teton Wilderness

Thanks to the great work of American Whitewater and the American Pakrafting Association, the River Paddling Protection Act (H.R. 3942), as amended, recently passed the United States House of Representatives. If passed by the Senate, and signed by the President, the River Paddling Protection Act would restore the National Park Service's authority to manage river paddling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.

In response to an opinion piece, authored by ecologists George Wuerthner, in the Casper Star Tribune and other regional publications, I submitted the following letter to the editor:

Visitation in Yellowstone’s backcountry has been declining. The National Park Service uses the trend of declining backcountry wilderness travel to justify spending millions of dollars on interpretive centers, instead of encouraging visitors to get out of their cars and experience the parks. As someone who has spent 25 years exploring the most remote regions of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, I can testify there are fewer people in the backcountry than ever. Allowing visitors to experience Yellowstone’s remote waterways by one of the most elegant and least impactful means of wilderness travel can be done sustainably and is something that should be embraced by the rest of the conservation community.

"Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality,” wrote Bob Marshall the founder of the Wilderness Society. “Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road."

The River Paddling Protection Act would give Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks three years to take a fresh look at how paddling should be managed, and then implement a modern plan for doing so.  The bill would in no way limit the Parks’ discretion to sustainably manage paddling just as they manage other similar uses.  It’s important to note that the paddling bans are based on outdated 1950s fishing regulations that no longer make sense.

The River Paddling Protection Act would remove those archaic 1950s fishing regulations and restore the authority of the NPS to manage river paddling. Those of us who support this bill do not want the wilderness character of Yellowstone and Grand Teton impaired. Instead we are asking for a fair and publicly vetted process that would produce a river paddling management plan that will “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

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