Conservationists and paddlers are at odds over a bill that would open rivers, like the Yellowstone River seen here at a ford near Yellowstone Lake, to boating. Paddlers say a ban still in place from the 1950s is outdated and ignores modern river management. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Update 12:20 p.m. Oct. 9, 2015:

Without debate Thursday, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources passed Rep. Cynthia Lummis’ (R-Wyo) Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act.

The committee also approved an amendment Lummis offered. Lummis said the amendment addressed critics’ complaints that the bill would require extensive study that the parks could not afford.

“This would reduce by over 90 percent the amount of analysis and the river miles that would be subject to be analyzed to allowing kayaking in the park,” Lummis said of her amendment.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition opposed Lummis’ bill and amendment in an Oct. 7 letter. The group “has always held that legislating new uses into national parks and tying the hands of local managers is not a sound way to steward Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s world-famous lands, waters and wildlife,” Executive Director Caroline Byrd wrote. “Establishing a precedent for legislating new uses into the nation’s national parks, specifically the first and most iconic park, opens the door to every activity that is currently not permitted in our most cherished places.”

Critics contend the measures require the parks to open more than 400 miles of rivers, streams and creeks to paddling, regardless of environmental impacts or consequences. Supporters say the bill updates antiquated park service policies adopted starting in the 1950s and aimed at anglers, not paddlers.


Original story:

As a House committee considers U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis’ (R-Wyo.) Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act, critics say it would require opening 400 miles of rivers to paddling regardless of park studies.

The bill goes before the House Natural Resources Committee at 4 p.m. today (Oct. 7) in a session that is scheduled to extend into Thursday. A memo from committee chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) says Lummis will introduce an amendment — one that alarms a park conservation group.

National Parks and Conservation Association calls Lummis’ legislation a “phony study bill.” The bill says the Secretary of the Interior “shall promulgate regulations to allow the use of hand-propelled vessels…” It would do so through existing rulemaking practices that usually require study.

Lummis’ amendment lists more than 400 miles of waterways where paddling “shall be allowed….” Those places “shall include, at a minimum, the segments listed…” the amendment says. WyoFile calculated the segments as adding up to 429 miles.

The seven-page amendment lists 50 river segments in the two parks. The list includes portions of the Firehole, Yellowstone and Bechler rivers in Yellowstone, and Cottonwood, Pilgrim and Pacific creeks in Grand Teton.

To conservationists, the legislation would strip authority from the National Park Service. “The language of the bill says those rivers will be open to paddling,” regardless of park service views, said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton senior program manager with NPCA. “That’s why we’re referring to this as a phony study bill.”

Paddlers disagree that the amendment requires the listed river segments to be open.

“This is a baseline to focus the study to rivers and streams that are not only of recreation value, but the most appropriate for this type of use,” said Aaron Pruzan, a paddler and water-sports business owner in Jackson. “They could allow a short season some places [but] they’ve got to open up some waters.”

The legislation requires the parks to follow existing rulemaking policies. New paddling rules would have to be implemented within three years of when funds to implement new regulations are made available. The bill and amendment would not allow expansion of commercial uses, such as guide services. It would allow the parks to recover costs associated with any paddling program.

Lummis’ office did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. The amendment is designed to ameliorate environmental worries, Bishop’s memo says. “The amendment addresses concerns raised by environmental groups by providing a definition of hand-propelled vessel and paddling and by setting a floor for the scope of applicable waters within the Parks,” the memo says.

Lummis introduced the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act on Feb. 13, and the U.S. House referred it to the committee. Paddlers have lobbied to open Yellowstone and Grand Teton waters to more boating, saying prohibitions on many waterways are out of date. They were promulgated starting in 1950 to limit angling from boats, not kayaking, canoeing or packrafting, boaters contend.

“Paddling is typically considered an appropriate activity in National Parks and other protected federal lands, and is typically managed commensurate with other similar forms of recreation,” Bishop’s memo says. “H.R. 974 opens rivers and streams throughout Yellowstone and Grand Teton to paddling, under the NPS full discretion, and encourages the NPS to actively manage paddling as an appropriate and sustainable activity.”

Mader said the Park Service would not open rivers on Lummis’ list if the agency were not forced to do so.

“It panders to a special interest,” she said of the bill and amendment. “We are worried about what special interest group is next in line.”

Parks should understand that river use could be controlled, Pruzan said. “To say this opens up the floodgates is to ignore river management as it exists.”

Read the amendment to H.R. 974, Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act:

 

Read the original H.R. 974, Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act:

 

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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