American Packrafting Association President Rebukes NPS Director

The American Packrafting Association has written a response to NPS director Jonathan B. Jarvis, regarding the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act.

The letter, written by Brad Meiklejohn, President of the American Packrafting Association, is addressed to Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chariman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. In it, Meiklejohn sternly rebukes Jarvis’ letter, written earlier this month, which castigated the Committee for taking up Cynthia Lummis’ (R-WY) Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act.

Jarvis’ letter contended allowing paddling in swaths of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks heretofore closed to such access would undermine their ecological integrity and was, on the whole, unnecessary. He added the bill fulfills “the interests of a small group of recreational paddlers,” even as it purports to allow every American access. Jarvis ended his criticism saying the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act would set “a very poor precedent.”

The crux of Meiklejohn’s letter is twofold: 1) packrafting would not undermine these waterways’ ecological stability and 2) denying access to select portions of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is illegal, given that paddling happens in other national parks. From the APA (courtesy of National Parks Traveler):

The Director implies that paddlers would damage the rivers’ “… wild, ecologically pristine state,” but fails to mention that anglers, backpackers, campers, and horsemen already visit these river corridors. How does the addition of well-managed paddling suddenly taint the wildness and pristineness of rivers that area already being used by other recreationists? The NPS considers managed paddling to be entirely appropriate in every other national park in the nation. Why not in Yellowstone and Grand Teton? The NPS has not provided an answer to that question, which is why H.R. 974 is necessary.

Director Jarvis has prematurely and inappropriately drawn conclusions about the impacts of paddling in these Parks without his agency ever having done a thorough analysis. In 2012, the NPS illegally made similar presumptions about paddling in their Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Snake River headwaters, which was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 2009. In this plan, the Parks were required, under Wild and Scenic Law, to take a close look at river0corridor recreation, but dismissed paddling, citing their obsolete 65-year-old ban.

The NPS’ dismissal of river paddling analysis reveals inattention to their basic mission and a lack of stewardship for resources that are nothing less than a river paradise. A bizarre lack of river paddling information and management in Yellowstone, coupled with the odd scarcity of approved river paddling opportunities is confusing for visitors. It has led to illegal river running, accidents by uninformed and unprepared visitors, and costly enforcement and rescue efforts.

Meiklejohn goes on to extol the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act, saying it would merely “promulgate rules allowing paddling where and when appropriate” and adding, “There is no mandate to open any stretch to paddling.” Meiklejohn concludes that H.R. 974 “would afford EVERY interested and able American the opportunity to experience ‘large intact river systems and environments in a wild, ecologically pristine state’” (quoting Jarvis at the end).

Indeed, the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act would “direct the Secretary of the Interior to promulgate regulations to allow the use of hand-propelled vessels on certain rivers and streams that flow in and through certain Federal lands in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and for other purposes.”

Part of the contention, undoubtedly, stems from the ambiguity in the Act, which calls for regulations to be promulgated (or publicized) but doesn’t explicitly state whether the NPS can subsequently keep said waterways closed to paddling after regulations are written up. Meiklejohn states select riverways could be closed to paddling if an assessment mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act finds that paddling would endanger them.

As it stands (according to Govtrack.us) the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act has a 21 percent chance of becoming law.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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