The Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act, after passing a U.S. House Natural Resources Committee vote, is fording into uncertain waters.
Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis’ bill, as previously reported, would open certain streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to “hand-powered watercraft” like kayaks and rafts. Further, the bill would bypass environmental assessments of the waterways, in an effort to streamline opening of the waterways. Said streams have been closed to human use since 1950, out of overfishing concerns.
This is not the first time Lummis has proposed a bill to make Yellowstone and Grand Teton act, either. In fact, it’s not the first time a representative in Congress has tried to pass legislation compelling a national park to adopt new recreational policies. From the Jackson Hole News & Guide:
Oftentimes legislation that creates a national park establishes its recreational uses, Grand Teton park spokeswoman Denise Germann said. “But as far as other uses that have come from congressional legislation, we’re unaware of any.”
Germann said she consulted with the National Park Service’s Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs, which did not return phone calls for comment.
Legislative attempts have been made to force Denali National Park to allow snowmobiles in its interior and to erase a National Park Service-wide ban on jet skis.
Those efforts, however, didn’t make it successfully through Congress, said Kristen Brengel, senior director for legislation and policy at the National Parks Conservation Association.
“I don’t think that what they’re trying to do is unprecedented,” Brengel said. “There have been attempts at trying to allow uses.”
Legislation last year sought more beach driving at the Park Service’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore, she said, and a bill passed the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“But it didn’t go any further than that,” Brengel said.
Historian and Grand Teton expert Bob Righter has pointed out legislators have used the threat of legislation to affect changes to park policies. U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) threatened to pass legislation mandating Grand Teton create a snowmobile trail; the Park decided to acquiesce rather than face the chance.
Reportedly, legislation such as Lummis’ bill is a “last-ditch effort,” according to paddling advocate Tom Turiano. From the JH News & Guide:
He and other avid paddlers first tried to achieve a change in the regulations through a Comprehensive River Management Plan that was crafted to comply with the Snake River Headwaters Legacy Act, but the request to assess the new use was shot down.
“We were seeking an administrative solution,” Turiano said. “That was a slap in the face, especially to the paddlers in Jackson, who put a lot of time into getting that Snake River Headwaters Act passed. There was definitely some dissatisfaction that it wasn’t even given a look.”
The paddling advocates “waffled” before going to Lummis, he said.
“But in the end we’ve all said this is the best course of action,” said Turiano, who recalled being skeptical that the ploy would work.
“I remember being completely shocked,” Turiano said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Cynthia Lummis would actually write this bill. What’s this? This is unheard of.’
The Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act, or H.R. 974, currently has a 21 percent chance of succeeding, according to GovTrack.us.