A little paddling won’t hurt the Yellowstone experience

 
RELATED:
Paddling bill is bad news for Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks

If we’ve gained any strength as environmentalists, it’s because we’ve stuck to science and public processes. The other stuff is for the bad guys who want to exploit public land for profit.

As a longtime activist on forest issues, I could give you lots of reasons why you should listen to me. But I’d much rather have all of us looking at the actual facts of any environmental case. That’s been our winning hand for the last 50 years.

That’s why I was discouraged recently when a controversy erupted over allowing kayaking inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It started when environmental recreation groups such as American Whitewater petitioned Yellowstone Park to re-evaluate its policy regarding recreational paddling through the parks’ waterways.  Currently, such use is mostly forbidden, but not because of kayaking. Much of Yellowstone was closed to boating in the 1950s because of overfishing.

This is not a new fight: American Whitewater has sought more permissive management of paddling in Yellowstone for several decades. Initially, the group asked that paddling be allowed on the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River as well as a few other places.  Most of these runs are wicked hard; on a scale of I-VI, they’re solid Class V and only passable by a few. So allowing these paddle runs would provide an incredible experience for those qualified to do it, yet not one that would attract the masses. Nor would it attract what some environmentalists have deemed the “beer and bacon” crowd. (And we wonder why we get accused of being elitists.)

More recently, American Whitewater asked that Yellowstone National Park include in its management plan the opportunity to paddle five newly designated wild and scenic rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. What unspooled after this request was the Yellowstone superintendent refusing to allow any public process; the draft plan did not consider even limited paddling. That led to some local folks approaching the Wyoming congressional delegation.

Perhaps they were naïve; no one would accuse Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis of being too green. But the Wyoming delegation is the local delegation. They’re the people you go to when you can’t get a fair hearing from administrators of our public lands.

And then, out of the woodwork, came the self-appointed environmental illuminati, and instead of looking at the process as being remotely valid, people like Mike Clark, former executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, started calling kayakers “poachers.” Lacking their own environmental street cred, paddling opponents also began channeling deceased environmentalists, like Wilderness Society notables Olaus and Margaret Murie, to make their points.

Nowhere would anyone talk about the facts of the issue, which was the marginal use of a few kayaks on a few rivers for a few weeks each year, a use that should be studied -- not demonized.

Recently, a bill passed out of the House of Representatives demanding a fresh look at the issue, including new regulations on paddling rivers in Yellowstone.   American Whitewater, an organization dedicated equally to conservation and access -- its members have done as much for in-stream flows as any – backed out of supporting a completed version through the Senate, presumably because of the unhealthy controversy. Meanwhile, the insults keep piling up. If you listen to the enviro crowd in Bozeman, Mont., kayakers aren’t just lowbaggers; they are the spawn of Satan himself.

As a boater who cut my teeth on timber activism by kayaking pristine rivers, I’m appalled. One of the things I learned by paddling down White Sand Creek (now called Colt-Killed Creek) on the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, was that the water was incredibly clean. The gin-clear waters of that headwater stream to the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers, both charter members of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, moved me to dig deeply into the science of water quality as well as activities like clear-cut logging that would affect it. That science led me to develop expertise on landslides. That meant I had to learn how to communicate my findings all the way up to then-Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck, about the harmful effects of deteriorating roads on our national forests. And that led directly to the road-building moratorium on national forest lands in the late ‘90s.  Science won the day, and I credit boating with beginning my education.

None of that’s here in the Yellowstone fight. You’ve got some environmentalists defending an anachronistic policy decision to shut out a use they don’t understand, and don’t care about.  They’re misrepresenting the issue, and toadying to authority. They’re also likely to win.  But when you live by bullying tactics, you also die by them.  That’s a bad precedent to establish as your baseline practice when a real threat to Yellowstone comes rolling along.  Because one will.

Charles Pezeshki is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He writes in Pullman, Washington.

Correction: A previous version of this opinion piece stated that American Whitewater is now on board with the bill that passed out of the House of Representatives, when in fact it is not.

Thomas Turiano
Thomas Turiano
Mar 27, 2014 01:42 PM
Dear Charles Pezeshki, Thank you so much for this fantastic piece, written so well, and expressing the facts so clearly and thoughtfully. In my little world, this is Pulitzer material. You have validated paddlers as conservationists looking for deep wilderness connection, and put the conservation community on notice that it is time to communicate in a constructive way. Bravo!
Forrest G McCarthy
Forrest G McCarthy
Mar 27, 2014 08:01 PM
After many years of exploring wilderness as a climber and skier I became a wilderness paddler, specifically to explore the landscape just outside of Yellowstone National Park. In doing so I gained a deeper understanding and connection with this wild and remarkable place. Rivers are what connect the ecosystem and to travel on them is to become fully immersed in its raw beauty.

I later used the packrafting skills I learned in the Greater Yellowstone to travel primitively across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and gather data on how climate change was impacting a pristine arctic landscape. I used the data I collected for my Masters Thesis at the University of Wyoming. This summer I’m planning a packrafting traverse in the remote Darhad region of Mongolia to document little known populations of river otter, wild reindeer, and snow leopard. I was invited to do so by the director of the region’s protected areas.

Yet back home in northwest Wyoming, the National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and environmental activists (many I previously admired) tell me this type of amphibious wilderness travel is detrimental to Yellowstone’s wildlife and natural character. It is hard not to find this absurd. Yet when I speak up against the unjust and misguided park policy I’m accused of being a hedonistic, elitist, thrill seeking jock.

Thank you Chuck for speaking up as well. Maybe included in the many lessons running wild rivers has taught us are knowing how to make our own decisions, what friends to trust, and when not to be afraid.
Orville Bach
Orville Bach Subscriber
Mar 28, 2014 09:55 AM
As an avid paddler I would like to comment on the proposal to open up more waters for paddling in Yellowstone. To begin with there are already fabulous wilderness paddling opportunities in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. A few years ago a friend and I launched our canoe at Flagg Ranch and paddled down the Snake into Jackson Lake. We then paddled along the wild west shore of the lake all the way to Spaulding Bay, and portaged our canoe over to Bearpaw lake, eventually ending up Leigh Lake and then over to String Lake. I have also taken some great shorter trips from String Lake back to Leigh Lake and back.

Just this past summer a friend and I launched a canoe at Grant. We paddled the wild shoreline of Yellowstone Lake 25 miles all the way down to the very tip of the South Arm of Yellowstone Lake. I have paddled from Sedge Bay down the Southeast Arm. In previous years I have paddled along the west shore of Lewis Lake and then up the three mile Lewis River into the wild waters of Shoshone Lake and explored the far reaches of the west end of the lake and Shoshone Geyser Basin.

I have paddled along just about every inch of Yellowstone, Shoshone, Lewis, Jackson and Leigh Lakes and had some great experiences. Years ago I wondered why streams in Yellowstone were closed to paddling. However, over the years I think I have come to understand the wisdom of the policy.
 
I have come to understand that there are excellent reasons why paddling is not permitted. First, many streams meander through large meadows replete with grazing bison and elk. Paddlers would not only disrupt wildlife and waterfowl feeding along the steams, but the visual pollution caused by a parade of rafts/canoes would spoil the magnificent scenes visitors presently enjoy. Imagine what we would end up with if we had constant trains of rafts floating the Yellowstone through Hayden Valley or the Madison River or the Lamar River through Lamar Valley. These are all critical wildlife habitats.

Some say, well, what about the Snake River through the Tetons? That is different. The Snake is well away from the road and does not meander through wide meadows filled with wildlife. Some say, what about the Upper Yellowstone River? That is a long way from any road. True. However,
I have taken many backpacking trips along the Thorofare trail that parallels the Upper Yellowstone River. That river provides critical habitat for grizzlies, moose and wolves, not to mention waterfowl. All you have to do to understand that is to walk down to the riverbank and simply look at the abundance of tracks. There is no other river system in Yellowstone’s backcountry that comes close to the abundance and variety of wildlife activity as evidenced by tracks along the riverbank. You don’t have to be a wildlife biologist to understand that folks floating down this stretch of river would displace and disturb wildlife. Can’t we leave a FEW unspoiled places out in the wild where the wildlife come first? That’s why the park limits use in certain Bear Management Areas, such as Pelican Valley, so that grizzly bears do not abandon critical feeding areas. That closure was based on hard research done by a doctoral student who spent the summer at Pelican Cone Lookout with powerful spotting scopes. He documented grizzly bears abandoning critical food sources when hikers would come close by. I would suspect the Upper Yellowstone would be a similar situation.
 
As to the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River, this segment of river represents a wild and pristine setting for wilderness travelers. There are fabulous trails that hikers and backpackers can take that provide access along the river for much of the way. Unlike Arizona’s Grand Canyon, which requires a 5000 foot descent to reach the Colorado River, the trails along the Yellowstone River are really not that difficult to access. So, if you want to enjoy the beauty of the Black Canyon, it is very easy to do so by trail.
 
This section of river has raging rapids and opening it to paddling would be a huge mistake. The Black Canyon is very narrow, deep and remote. Any boating mishap here is going to require a very risky and costly rescue effort by National Park Service personnel who are already overtaxed with duties. For example, there have been occasions when outlaw paddlers have attempted to paddle this section only to have serious accidents that require very costly rescues. This is not fair to the taxpaying public. I could better understand the argument from whitewater enthusiasts who want to run this section if there was a road paralleling the river, like say the Gallatin River up Highway 191 north of Yellowstone. But there is not. This river is absolutely inaccessible. I know that the kayakers say “that’s OK; we are willing to take the risk.” But talk is cheap. When the accident occurs, as they most certainly would, a rescue will be necessary and it will probably involve a helicopter as have past rescues, costing taxpayers a TON of money.

I really don’t think Yellowstone should ever let this horse out of the barn. The bottom line is, we don’t need Congress forcing Yellowstone to come up with millions on an unneeded study. Let’s leave the management of our wild national park resources to the trained professionals who work there!
Mark Pearson
Mark Pearson Subscriber
Mar 28, 2014 11:03 AM
What’s lost in the hubbub about boating access to Yellowstone rivers is the significance of western federal land managers putting the resource first and foremost. We should be celebrating land managers prioritizing protection of the land and wildlife resources in their care, not trying to undermine that action. It’s a refreshing demonstration of the conservation ethic in action – something we often lament as missing in so many conservation disputes across the West.

Perhaps more significant is the impact of this demand for boating access on the integrity of the national park system. A narrowly-focused recreational special interest invoking congressional micro-management to get their way in the world’s most iconic national park does not bode well for the future integrity of national park management decisions. That’s the impact of the blinders of an interest group with just one, specific, targeted outcome. If boating enthusiasts can secure congressional intervention to get their desired access, why not other recreational interests? High Country News has ample stories of recreational disputes in the national parks – will snowmobile advocates get Congress to impose their prescriptive management plan on Yellowstone, or rock climbers intervene in Joshua Tree, or horse packing in Sequoia-Kings Canyon?

The need and insistence for maximal public recreational access is a uniquely American trait. In many parts of the world, societies are fine with putting some places off-limits whether for cultural reasons or ecological reasons. But in America, we insist on access everywhere, all the time unless someone can prove otherwise. 90% of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is open and available for kayaking and pack-rafting and other boating activities. Why is it necessary to force open that last 10% over the objections of conservation-minded national park managers?
Lisa Robertson
Lisa Robertson
Mar 28, 2014 02:11 PM
From an experienced but retired kayaker who almost lost my life more than once on Class IV rivers just because they were out there to be conquered,,, it's not necessary to open our last remaining quiet places for the pleasure of a few. Let the challenge be to accept that it's OK to leave these rivers pristine forever.
Linda VanFossan
Linda VanFossan Subscriber
Mar 29, 2014 07:55 AM
Thank you, thank you Lisa Robertson, Mark Pearson and especially Orville Bach for your comments on this important issue. Hopefully, our Park managers will stand strong against this onslaught of "elitist" few who want their way with our precious wild waterways. History has shown that the American public would find a way to destroy the pristine areas in a short time if given half a chance! We have such few of these areas left----we must protect them.
Linda VanFossan
Linda VanFossan Subscriber
Mar 29, 2014 07:56 AM
Thank you, thank you Lisa Robertson, Mark Pearson and especially Orville Bach for your comments on this important issue. Hopefully, our Park managers will stand strong against this onslaught of "elitist" few who want their way with our precious wild waterways. History has shown that the American public would find a way to destroy the pristine areas in a short time if given half a chance! We have such few of these areas left----we must protect them.
Brad Meiklejohn
Brad Meiklejohn
Mar 29, 2014 12:22 PM
Mark Pearson of GYC and Bart Melton of NPCA have it exactly backward. They want you to believe that river paddling is a novel and noxious form of recreation that is forcing its way into Yellowstone.

In reality, river paddling is one of the oldest activities in Yellowstone dating back before Lewis and Clark. River canoeing, kayaking and packrafting are among the lowest impact human activities imaginable and are enjoyed by millions of people in every other national park with floatable rivers. River paddling is banned in Yellowstone, not because studies have proven it has unacceptable impacts (there have been no studies), not because of a public process (there has been no public process), and not because of the wisdom and ethics of high-minded park managers.
 
River paddling in Yellowstone is banned because of concerns about overfishing that arose in the 1950’s. Fishing is now allowed and managed in Yellowstone, but the river paddling ban lives on for no good reason. River paddlers were forced out inadvertently and remain locked out because Pearson and Melton think they know what is best for Americans and our public lands.

This is not just about Yellowstone. In this country we make decisions together in a democratic process. We don’t allow individuals to decide what is best for the whole. Running through the comments of those opposed to river paddling is the sentiment that Americans can’t be trusted to know what is best for them and their public lands. This is a form of elitist tyranny that we shed centuries ago.

Pearson and Melton would have you believe that Congress has no business meddling with the management of public lands. But the reason Congress exists is to provide a check on the administrative branch lest it stray into tyranny. Congress has had to reign in arrogant government agencies before, including the National Park Service. The park service practically invited Congress to get involved in this issue by claiming the paddling ban ties their hands.

I understand that Pearson and Melton are frustrated at their inability to tackle the big issues that threaten Yellowstone and that their attacks on river paddlers are simply displacement behavior. But increasingly they come across as grumpy old men yelling “get off my lawn” at the neighbor kid playing in the sprinkler.

Brad Meiklejohn, President
American Packrafting Association
Carolyn Hopper
Carolyn Hopper Subscriber
Mar 29, 2014 10:33 PM
Thank you Mark,Lisa and Orville. Increased paddling in Yellowstone does not benefit all the animals , especially bears, wolves, elk and bison . Nor are riparian areas improved. And whom do paddlers expect will perform rescues? Should paddlers be "first" on rivers? And why pick on Bozeman before getting to know anyone there? Invoking the past use as a reason to open more water for paddling is shaky ground. All the wild should be considered before park users. Wikdlufe safety and considerstion first. In the meantime there is lots of wild water now open to run. Its less about party boats than ( though they are posdible) than all the other condiderations plus millions of dollars in costs that should be spent better taking care of our parks. How can proponents overlook the millions?
Carolyn Hopper
Carolyn Hopper Subscriber
Mar 29, 2014 10:34 PM
Thank you Mark,Lisa and Orville. Increased paddling in Yellowstone does not benefit all the animals , especially bears, wolves, elk and bison . Nor are riparian areas improved. And whom do paddlers expect will perform rescues? Should paddlers be "first" on rivers? And why pick on Bozeman before getting to know anyone there? Invoking the past use as a reason to open more water for paddling is shaky ground. All the wild should be considered before park users. Wikdlufe safety and considerstion first. In the meantime there is lots of wild water now open to run. Its less about party boats than ( though they are posdible) than all the other condiderations plus millions of dollars in costs that should be spent better taking care of our parks. How can proponents overlook the millions?
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Mar 30, 2014 09:01 PM
Depends where your talking about,just by experience I would not want to see the headwaters of the Snake above the last road thru the park.
Jesse Logan
Jesse Logan
Mar 31, 2014 11:02 AM
Charles Pezeshki's article, A little paddling won't hurt the Yellowstone experience, deserves a response, but his article is so misleading, and H.R. 3492 (now in the Senate as S. 2018) is such a bad idea, that it is hard to know where to begin, but I'll give it a try.

Mr. Pezeshki is correct in this legislation was sponsored by WY Representative Cynthia Lummis, but what he failed to mention was UT Representative Rob Bishop was a co-sponser. He is also correct when he says Rep. Lummis is no greenie - but if anyone could make her look like one it would be Rob Bishop. Rep. Bishop has a lifetime League of Conservation Voters score of 4% (FOUR PERCENT!). Now, why would Rob Bishop co-sponsor a bill to allow "a few paddlers access " to Yellowstone's rivers? The answer to this rhetorical question is easy, he wouldn't. A much more likely motive is to dismantle regulation of public lands in order to allow a laissez faire, market driven system of checks and balances to determine resource use - in other words, open Yellowstone's waters to commercial rafting and guiding. Mr. Pezeshki is hopelessly naive if he thinks either Rep. Lummis or Rep. Bishop would, as he implies, introduce a bill to allow, "marginal use of a few kayaks on a few rivers for a few weeks each year."

Mr. Pezeshki notes that, "The Black Canyon is wicked hard" cannot be argued with, but then Mr. Pezeshki goes on to say that "yet one that would not attract the masses ... ." The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone is serious white water, true story; but then, so is the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Enough said on that! And then, there are all the other prime plums for economic picking that are not "wicked hard," like the Lamar through Lamar Valley or the Yellowstone through the Hayden Valley, the list goes on.

In his article, Mr. Pezeshki makes the point that the current restriction on Yellowstone paddling resulted from a 1950s fishing regulation, and from this implies that it is archaic and outdated. He is correct, but the conclusion he draws is exactly backwards. The aquatic resources of Yellowstone are in need of more protection today, not less. The 1950s was before the introduction of lake trout, before whirling disease became an issue, and before the introduction of New Zealand mud snails. The issue of invasive species alone is enough to give one pause to consider the wisdom of opening all Yellowstone waters to unlimited paddling. Packrafting, in particular, provides the opportunity for transport of detrimental invasive species from one watershed where they are present to others where they are not.

Paddling, white water and otherwise, is one of the least restricted recreational activity on public lands. To my knowledge, the Yelllowstone paddling regulation is the only such restriction on public lands. In other words, of the 544 million acres of US public lands, Yellowstone National Park at 2.2 million acres accounts for only 0.4% of these public lands. A congressional mandate to open a recreational activity already available on 99.6% of public lands couldn't help but set precedent for other far more restricted recreational activities like mountain biking, snowmobiling, para-gliding, etc. The list goes on; all valid recreational uses on public lands, but not every activity on every piece of land. Some places are simply too unique, too special, and too valuable for unrestricted recreational activities. Mr. Pezeshki advocates the philosophy, if you can't make a persuasive argument to allow your particular recreational activity on public lands, then go to your Congressman, " They’re the people you go to when you can’t get a fair hearing from administrators of our public lands."

Mr. Pezeshki makes the statement that this issue is about, "... the marginal use of a few kayaks on a few rivers for a few weeks each year." That is not even remotely what S. 218 is about. This legislation would open all streams and rivers in these Parks to paddling after a three year evaluation period. Specifically, the bill reads, "The rivers and streams of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park shall be open to hand-propelled vessels ... within 3 years of the date of enactment of this Act." Three years to evaluate over 7,000 miles of streams and rivers by an over-worked/underfunded agency. This ill-conceived legislation does not allocate one penny to accomplish this formidable task. How can anyone believe this is a good idea?

I am no opponent to river access and paddling, and in fact spend many rewarding days each year floating the Yellowstone river outside the Park. I also admire and respect the ability of many friends who are white water paddlers, wilderness advocates, and wild land travelers; but any natural resource/conservation issue is a question of costs vs. benefits, risks vs. rewards. In my opinion, the costs and risks of completely dismantling a regulation that has successfully protected the aquatic resources of the last intact, wild ecosystem in the entire US outside of Alaska, so far outweigh any potential benefits that the ill-conceived S. 2018 deserves to be dead on arrival.
grant mcbee
grant mcbee
Mar 31, 2014 01:15 PM
  American Whitewater tried these exact same sleazy bait and switch tactics on the Chattooga WSR. After telling all other interested parties they would only be interested in boating during the dead of winter when the river was flooded (when anglers and others would not be on or near the Chattooga) the paddling lobby demanded full access with no restriction (even when the river had insufficient water to float a boat). After the USFS continued limiting boating under a new forest Plan, American Whitewater sued the USFS arguing any limits on boating would be illegal. American Whitewater lost in district Federal Court and is now in a Federal appeals court arguing boating can not be limited by the USFS at any time at any flow level.
  
  Don't take the bait from the paddlers claiming they are only interested in a few stream at high waters. Have them put that in writing up front, or better have the NPS propose only allowing boating on 5% of the Yellowstone park waters, and keeping all other waters pristine and boat free.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Apr 01, 2014 01:43 PM
Orville and Lisa, above all, thanks for putting this issue into proper context. Grant, thanks for providing a little background on American Whitewater's history. Sounds like we have something similar to mountain bikers wanting access to wilderness trails.
Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
Apr 01, 2014 01:56 PM
As the op-ed writer, I typically don't respond to comments. And I won't to most. But I don't like being called a liar, as Jesse Logan basically calls me.

To start, the bill that passed authorized a study. It told the NPS that they couldn't drag their feet, as federal agencies are wont to do when they are told to do something that they don't want to do. Regarding the Grand Canyon being the same difficulty as the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, I can't imagine a more ignorant comment. You obviously don't boat. Regarding the 'who' of the bill, in the end, I don't care. The language in the bill is the language in the bill. A majority of the House voted for it. This idea that an R can never vote for something beneficial is insane. This kind of logic is what's tearing our country apart.

It's difficult to respond to the invasive species argument, because it is so specious, the mind reels. There are tons of boats on lakes in Yellowstone. Packrafts are about the size of a glorified air mattress. Which is more likely to spread these?

The legislation tells the Park to do a study, find out what/if the impacts are, and come up with a management plan. It has a 'stick', largely because the Park Service has been acting like the Grand Imperium, with Dan Wenk as the Imperious Leader on a user group that they figure has little clout. But that tells you about what might unspool in the future, folks. If NPS leadership hide behind BS reasons and only respond to power politics, trust me that there are groups much more powerful than a bunch of pack rafters. And the NPS, with little record of backbone, will cave. Don't believe me? How many bison did they kill this year? And where was Wenk's voice? Trust me that it didn't reach over the Bitterroots to my home.
Louis F Good
Louis F Good Subscriber
Apr 01, 2014 02:24 PM
What a load of hooey! The legislation would open up Yellowstone's rivers and streams to COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS and that's all the sponsors are interested in, not a few self-righteous, whining kayakers. The fact that these ever so conscientious paddlers are willing to let this happen to satisfy their selfish interests is a clear indication of their overall concern for park resources, which is zero. There are already many places in the area to paddle kayaks with their ever present supply rafts, portable toilets, campsites, trash, noise, Go-Pro filming, etc. Leaving Yellowstone's rivers and streams boat free is no hardship for them at all and they should be left that way. The writer's comment above that "in the end, I don't care" as long as he gets to do what he wants is another clear indication of his and his cohorts unbelievably selfish interests to the detriment of the park's resources.

  

Carolyn Hopper
Carolyn Hopper Subscriber
Apr 01, 2014 02:50 PM
Dan Wenk is not the Imperious Leader you accuse him of being. Have you met him? Talked with him? Asked him anything? It is just "political science" - i.e. a toxic chemical mix of politics masking as science that would claim it is all A okey dokey to have more paddlers in YNP. Easy to name call. Hard to come up with solutions. 1. Will paddlers pay the $4 million for the study and implementation if it comes to that? Repair river banks? Get out of the river and walk away when bison, elk, bears and wolves come down to the river or lake? Pay to be rescued? Power politics? Really?? I realize, being related to a "bunch of pack rafters" of the world class sort (have you kayaked around Lake Baikal or most of Lake Superior?) that many are careful, would leave the river to the wildlife, would be careful to not leave any trace as they enter rivers and would pay for their own rescue. However, as a fisherman of many rivers, I have seen alot of trash and trashing around Montana and Idaho. And as mentioned about, what about commercial operations? Controlling the numbers, keeping some rivers closed? Paddlers are not being kept out of the Park, just water craft. I don't think your boat will cry if you leave it at home or in the car.
Try not calling names and doing some long range thinking. Then try paddling on one of hundreds of wild and scenic rivers in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming or Colorado.
NPS leadership are not hiding behind BS reasons. That's just an easy slam. Think about the land and wildlife in YNP first.
Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
Apr 01, 2014 02:57 PM
Thanks for writing, Louis and Carolyn. You both just demonstrated that reason is not your strong point -- attack and smear are. Couldn't have hoisted you better myself. And when Wenk stops stealing a play from the 1872 Mining Act folks - redirecting an ancient initiative for their own personal agenda, then I'll stop calling him the Emperor. Otherwise, if the shoe fits, then you know how the story goes.
lou carvelas
lou carvelas
Apr 01, 2014 08:28 PM
Not I and no one are offering any affront to paddlers. This goes far deeper than your defense of a sport & its sportsmen, who are to be admired.
Yellowstone is the marrow of our continent, containing the source waters of three great river systems - no where else does this occur. Wildness - it's a quality that Thoreau & Turner understood ... and strict wildness preserves .. us. Yellowstone is as great a wild place on earth as we have, and it is being encroached upon exponentially - paddlers wanting in being exactly another in a list. Nothing is more endangered than Yellowstone .. a little paddling will hurt the Yellowstone experience. I must say it disrespects this great ecosystem. This type of water recreation is another in a long list of intrusions and not integral to Yellowstone's identity. So, respectfully I say, "too bad that it has great kayaking waters" - your great sport mustn't belong there. The impact on nature will be grand, despite what you argue.
Yellowstone needs nothing. It gives everything it is and far more. It is as near a primordial system as can be, and a liminal place for many. The human need to try and evolve this magnificent beauty in our image and wants is enough to make one apoplectic. Leave it be, leave what we have of this magic as it is.
Dan Roper
Dan Roper Subscriber
Apr 01, 2014 10:31 PM
Whether recreationist or conservationist (or both, hopefully) we all tend to care about the future of our public lands- and this makes us important allies on many critical issues of our time. So although some of us may disagree on this issue, let's not make enemies of one another. There are much bigger threats to the places we care so deeply about, and those threats are where the bulk of our concern and opposition should be directed.
doug Kretzmann
doug Kretzmann
Apr 02, 2014 09:53 AM
Charles says, "the facts of the issue.. was the marginal use of a few kayaks on a few rivers for a few weeks each year".
But that's nothing like what this bill does. See my comment on the other article,
https://www.hcn.org/wotr/pa[…]stone-and-grand-teton-parks

Charles goes on to fulminate,
"some environmentalists defending an anachronistic policy decision to shut out a use they don’t understand, and don’t care about. They’re misrepresenting the issue, and toadying to authority. They’re also likely to win. But when you live by bullying tactics, you also die by them."

Frustrated hairboaters should not be calling the rest of us paddlers and environmentalists 'bullies' and 'toadies' and incapable of 'understanding the issues'. You do your cause no favours..
Forrest G McCarthy
Forrest G McCarthy
Apr 03, 2014 07:38 AM
If Yellowstone is as endangered, as stated in many of the above comments, then shouldn’t the NPS close it to activities like hiking, horse back riding, and fishing that all have greater impacts than simply paddling a river?
lou carvelas
lou carvelas
Apr 03, 2014 08:05 AM
"For the benefit and enjoyment of the people"

No, Forrest and no to further encroachments. There are precedents established for the people and limits established, too.
Thomas Turiano
Thomas Turiano
Apr 03, 2014 12:42 PM
The challenge I have with Lou's comment is that paddling is just as much a traditional primitive use as hiking, horsepacking, and fishing. Paddlers were on Yellowstone's rivers long ago for both utility and recreation, yet it is the only one of the traditional primitive uses that is banned. I would have more understanding for Lou's argument if jetskiers or even paragliders were knocking on the door, because they are not traditional primitive uses. I would however support paragliding in the Park because like paddling, it allows humans to flow gracefully with the natural elements to enrich the human experience and has ostensibly very little impact on the natural environment. I am not a paraglider, but I wish all of us could experience our world in ways that get us out of our RVs, away from spectatorism, into taking full responsibility. I say "ostensibly" because we don't really know about the impacts until they are analyzed by professionals in an unbiased study. That's what paddlers are asking for.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Apr 03, 2014 01:58 PM
You could actually limit it,and maybe just have certain days. It does not have to be a all or none deal.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker
Apr 03, 2014 05:46 PM
To call paddling a traditional primitive use is at least a bit disingenuous when you are really advocating for tiny plastic boats capable of running rapids that 'traditional' paddlers would've died on with the technology of their day.

As someone who has paddled a canoe on rivers, I can appreciate the distinction between paddling (anything) and a jet ski or a powerboat. However this argument strikes me as another intrusion by a fairly narrow user group that wants their specific activity allowed in an area where it currently doesn't seem to fit. A lot like the mountain bikers who want access to wilderness areas. It's a technology fix that allows access in a novel way and as such, I feel restrictions or outright bans for some areas are perfectly reasonable. We don't have to do everything everywhere.

It's not as if someone is telling you that you can't paddle anymore, anywhere. They are simply saying that paddling doesn't fit here in Yellowstone on those areas that you want to access. There are other areas you can access nearby, you just can't cross 'running the Black Canyon' off your lifelist. To insist that it has to be otherwise seems a bit narcissistic.
lou carvelas
lou carvelas
Apr 03, 2014 06:21 PM
Exactly correct, Tim. Phooey to the many poor arguments stated here by the paddling advocates, of whom I am one - but never in Yellowstone. With a passionate heart, I say this must not ever happen. Leave it.
Thomas Turiano
Thomas Turiano
Apr 06, 2014 11:20 AM
Tim Baker's comment about the capability of boats is well taken, but I again would argue that, at least for packrafters, the principle is the same as paddling of yesterday. Packrafts are a minimalist tool for traveling through and experiencing a landscape. Technology has not changed this primitive activity…google "coracles" and "Boat Cloaks"…and many other craft that were light enough to carry overland to the next river. Indeed, the packraft is much more suited to whitewater than these crafts of yore, but for most of us, the trip is less about the whitewater, and much more about the "landscape trip." The Black Canyon is not on my hit list, and I would venture that 99% of paddlers would never attempt it. But for those 1%, I say give them the opportunity.

For me, the beauty of a packraft is that you can easily portage around intimidating or dangerous rapids. I do that all the time. And, you can pack it up, hike up and over a mountain, and put-in on the next river over.

Again, it seems no one is hearing or listening that we are not asking for unlimited packrafting use of Park streams. Everyone agrees that restrictions are "perfectly reasonable" and trust that Park planners will devise a strategy that protects Park resources while providing paddling opportunities where appropriate. That is what was supposed to happen with the Snake River Headwaters Legacy Act compliance. Dale Lockwood is a bright light that saw through the rhetoric. As for Lou, I respect and appreciate your passion, but it is both biased and unsubstantiated, and not everyone shares it. Even Supt. Wenk once chided me that the Park is not here to cater to your passions, or something to that effect. Goes both ways, doesn't it?
lou carvelas
lou carvelas
Apr 06, 2014 03:54 PM
Thomas, my college degree and first 6 years of professional work were in the field of geology - I was an exploration geologist in sulfide mineralogy. In that period, the scientific method is how I approached my work.

Studies of potential human interactions within a natural setting are inadequate, in my opinion, and are part science and part 'wishing & hoping' for a desirable outcome. It is the unfortunate human trait of the few to be disrespectful, defiant and treacherous - which is worrisome. It takes just one violation to spoil. I've witnessed many, and do understand that most people pay great respect to places like Yellowstone. People are great, some persons are not.

Studies are very incomplete, studies are biased and studies cannot offer good forecasts of how people are to behave. This is a big topic, because it is just one of many that Yellowstone faces today - they just keep coming.

Some things seen, not all - occurrences were inside of YNP, with the approximate date of the events:
> 1977 winter trip - 2 beaver traps set in streams in the region between Craig Pass & Old Faithful
> 1996 autumn near Ravens Creek & Mist Creek Pass, several casings from a .270 caliber rifle
> fall of 2001 up Bacon Rind Creek within the park, a trail of elk blood perpendicularly crossing the trail. Farther up the switchbacks, inside the park, my friend and I witnessed the poacher bearing his rifle - we reported the incident later that afternoon. He never saw us.
> 2004, several large stacks of elk antlers behind large glacial erratics - we call them 'buffalo stones' - in the region between Junction Butte and Specimen Ridge
> May/June 2005, 2 grizzly poachers' fresh boot-steps postholed in the snow along Fawn Pass below the ridge leading to Stellaria Creek. This was reported to park personnel.

The occasional bad human incident, be it accident or flagrant violation, is something that's almost unpreventable.

If I am biased, this is why.


David Nix
David Nix Subscriber
Apr 06, 2014 04:18 PM
First off, many thanks Charles for an excellent call to reason. You speak for many of us and I share your profound disappointment to see this debate devolve into one of name-calling and exaggeration if not outright misinformation from individuals and organizations that once held my respect.

Second, this issue is proving divisive and damaging to relationships between members of the conservation community. And contrary to what some have said, paddlers are conservationists. One request I ask of everyone is to be very careful how you formulate and state your arguments. I greatly respect facts, logic, and sound reasoning (I’m a cancer scientist). By using neither, you risk driving hard working conservationists away from not just regulated paddling in Yellowstone but also from other issues like the fight to limit snowmobiling in the park, hunting of bison, and increased funding for the NPS.

So lets talk facts. I’ve quoted some of the relevant themes as they have emerged from this discussion:

1) “there are already fabulous wilderness paddling opportunities in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton” --- Sure, most lakes are open but < 5% of its rivers and streams. There are 750 miles of navigable water trails that thread Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (YGTNPs). This represents more than three Grand Canyons of Wild and Scenic quality waterways that the padding community has been forbidden from floating due to antiquated fishing regulations from the 1950’s. No other park or monument has such blanket river bans.

2) “Paddlers would not only disrupt wildlife and waterfowl feeding along the steams, but the visual pollution caused by a parade of rafts/canoes would spoil the magnificent scenes visitors presently enjoy.” --- This is an example of a misty eyed romanticism that has been used to blunt a rational discussion of the issues. I’d like to make three points: First, fishermen, backpackers, hikers, skiers etc. already access nearly all of the 750 miles of navigable rivers in question. How are paddlers any different than these use groups in disrupting wildlife? If anything I would argue that paddlers are the least disruptive. They don’t make riverside trails, they travel through an area relatively quickly and in near silence. Once on the water, paddlers leave virtually no trace. Second, paddlers and wildlife/ waterfowl get along pretty well in every other national park, wilderness area, BLM land, national monument, and recreation area. Why would this be any different than in YGTNPs? Third, this concept of visual pollution is valid (abet hypocritical) and is why every NPS agency uses regulations to limit where, when, and how folks recreate in the parks. The illusion of wilderness is difficult to maintain for the car bound tourist but worth it if it will pull some onto the trail and the river.

3) “Can’t we leave a FEW unspoiled places out in the wild where the wildlife come first?” --- Sure, no one is asking for unregulated paddling so why do you distort the issue with this fear tactic? Do you consider your backpacking and camping in these areas a non disruptive use? Why couldn’t regulated paddling coexist in places with stream side trails, where fishermen already wade and backpackers camp? This is what other parks do. Paddling rivers in YGTNPs is just as valid an activity here as these other activities. Regulated paddling is embraced by every other national park and monument with floatable rivers and viewed as a positive activity for connecting people with the natural environment.


4) “we don’t need Congress forcing Yellowstone to come up with millions on an unneeded study” --- Actually we do! This fight is decades long. The most recent outright refusal by YGTNPs to even consider river paddling options in their draft 2013 Comprehensive River Management Plan (that title makes me laugh and cry) for the newly designated parks Wild and Scenic River has forced paddlers hands to pursue legislative and judicial solutions. Why? Because paddlers are taxpayers, a valid recreation group, and believe in the democratic process. Yes it is going to cost money to fund a comprehensive study of paddling. Lets get the ball rolling and find ways to adequately resource it.

5) “The issue of invasive species alone is enough to give one pause to consider the wisdom of opening all Yellowstone waters to unlimited paddling. Packrafting, in particular, provides the opportunity for transport of detrimental invasive species from one watershed where they are present to others where they are not.” --- Paddlers are no more of a vector than fishermen who have been wading through these same headwaters for decades. If anything paddlers are less so since they don’t walk on the river bottom or touch fish. Who said anything about unlimited paddling?


6) “To my knowledge, the Yelllowstone paddling regulation is the only such restriction on public lands.” You’re joking right? Paddling is one of the most regulated activities on our public lands with quotas, permits, regulations, ranger launch inspections, and annual lotteries that can take years to win. It might be a surprise to some but the majority of paddlers support such oversight and in many cases work with government agencies to develop and update sustainable use plans. Paddling advocacy groups such as AW, ACA, and APA all place conservation first and recreation second. Guess who was one of the strongest advocates for the Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR) Act? Paddlers.
 
7) “That is not even remotely what S.B. 2018 is about. This legislation would open all streams and rivers in these Parks to paddling after a three year evaluation period. Specifically, the bill reads, "The rivers and streams of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park shall be open to hand-propelled vessels ... within 3 years of the date of enactment of this Act." Three years to evaluate over 7,000 miles of streams and rivers by an over-worked/underfunded agency.” --- Hmm. This is an example of a deliberate misrepresentation of the bill through selective deletion of key phrases. Do not do this. It damages your credibility and is dishonest. Here is the complete text in question: “The rivers and streams of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park shall be open to hand-propelled vessels as determined by the Director of the National Park Service within 3 years of the date of enactment of this Act.” Thus, the bill explicitly states that the Director of the NPS will be responsible for deciding how paddling will proceed in YGTNPs. The three-year timeframe was added to allow YGTNPs to put in place some sort of regulations so rivers would NOT be opened unilaterally. The initial Superintendent Orders/ Compendium might simply reinstate the bans until a comprehensive analysis is resourced and performed. Alternatively, a small number of trial paddling permits could be issued in appropriate places to test the waters. Regardless, park administrators would determine where, when, and how much paddling is allowed.