August 25, 1996
Canyonlands National Park
Attn: Dave Wood
2282 S. West Resource Blvd.
Moab, UT 84532
Re: Your River Management Plan
A park is nothing, without wildlife (wildlife = all nonhuman, non-domesticated species, plants as well as animals). Without wildlife, a park is nothing but a pile of rocks, which can't hold our attention for more than a few minutes. By far the most interesting part of any park is its wildlife, followed by prehistoric wildlife, prehistoric humans, early humans, native cultures and peoples, and early remnants of our own culture.
And this is the order in which priority should be given. This is partly due to the relative importance of these various elements in a park (i.e., what makes a park a park, as opposed to a city), but it can also be justified on the basis of what is most vulverable: plants can't protect themselves from animals, animals from native peoples, native cultures from the dominant culture, etc. In other words, if we are going to continue to have parks that are enjoyable to visit, and that offer a respite from the pressures and relative sterility of the city, we are going to have to give much more priority to wildlife.
In recent years, the trend in our parks has, unfortunately, been in the opposite direction. Park managers have given in to pressure from various interest groups, so that lately, wildlife are given only token attention. For example, the last time I visited the Grand Canyon, three of the four ranger talks I heard were about recent American visitors to the Canyon. The one talk about wildlife was about all the fish that have gone extinct or are going extinct, due to Glen Canyon Dam and our mismanagement of the river.
Wildlife need a place to live, just as we do. That means a place where they are not molested (from their point of view, of course, not ours!). But humans think we own every square inch of the Earth. We think we have a right to go anywhere we want. In 2 million years of human evolution, there has never been one square inch of the Earth that is off-limits to humans (from which we voluntarily exclude ourselves)! There have always been some places that were difficult to reach, and hence were de-facto off-limits to humans, but as technology has progressed, there are fewer and fewer of these areas. Various kinds of cars and trucks, motorcycles, boats, mountain bikes, sophisticated camping and climbing gear, helicopter rescues, water stashes, and even freeze-dried foods have all contributed to eliminating the last safe refuges of wildlife.
In a desert area like Canyonlands National Park, water sources are one of the most important resources that need to be protected from human intrusion, so that they remain available for wildlife. This is why proper river management is so important.
There are two issues that relate to the impact of river management on wildlife: spacial and temporal. In spacial terms, boating and rafting make the entire river system accessible to all humans during all daylight hours. No special skills (including even the ability to swim!) are required. This practically eliminates this most important of all resources for wildlife. Even if there still are places where wildlife have access to the river, any of them can potentially be reached by people, once they are allowed boat access to the entire river system.
In temporal terms, nighttime has historically been available for wildlife to travel and feed unmolested by humans. Camping eliminates that "loophole"! People can potentially camp or explore (with the proper equipment, all of which is available) at night now, anywhere they want to.
Written regulations are only partly effective in curbing human abuses (e.g. witness the "Sedona 5" brazenly mountain biking down the North Kaibab Trail all the way to the Colorado!). The only sensible, humane way to restrict human access to wildlife habitat within the Park is to close roads (eliminating easy motor vehicle access), especially those that allow people to launch boats into the river system. "Demotorizing" and "depaving" the park will go a long way toward reducing human impacts to a sustainable level. However, there still needs to be a prohibition against motor vehicles, boats, horses, mules, and other such travel aids in the Park. Bicycles (and, of course, wheelchairs), since they are quiet and nonpolluting, could be allowed in the Park but never off-road! (Replacing motor vehicles with bikes is an obvious improvement, but allowing bikes on trails and in habitat areas is an equally obvious step backwards!)
Is this "fair"? Yes, because the same rules apply to everyone. There is no reason that humans should have access to every square inch of the Earth! In fact, there are very good reasons why we shouldn't. It would not significantly reduce enjoyment of the Park if people had access to the rivers at a few locations, rather than everywhere.
The bottom line, for the purposes of your scoping process, is that you should include the following issues: protecting wildlife; protecting wildlife habitat from human access; setting aside a large proportion of the park for the exclusive use of wildlife; reducing human access (both spatially and temporally), particularly, depaving, removing roads and trails, removing airplane (including helicopter) overflights, and removing all motorized vehicles and nonnative species (including horses, mules, and pets).
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
P.S. For more information and explanation, see my web page, listed below.
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