Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis has introduced a bill in Congress to expand paddle sports in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, forcing the Park Service to open many more waterways to recreational boating.  I am a boater, former wilderness guide, BLM river ranger, and a licensed outfitter/guide in both parks who could stand to benefit financially from expanded recreation. Yet I am opposed to Representative Lummis legislation.

Every new use adds to the human “burden” put upon the land and its wildlife. And given that we may not appreciate how this human intrusion is affecting the land, it is wise to have some areas where human activities are not permitted to increase beyond current use.

Recreation must take a backseat to preservation of ecological integrity of the land. And there is no doubt that recreation use; even the most careful and considerate use can have some potential unintentional negative effects on wildlife, and even to a degree the philosophical spirit of our wildlands reserves. Do we really need to add yet another layer of human intrusions into the wild backcountry of these parks? When do we reach a saturation point? These are questions that those advocating increasing recreational impacts appear to avoid.

Is there a need for additional recreational access? One can paddle Yellowstone Lake and Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone National Park or float the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park as well other park lakes. However, the Park Service has wisely, in my view, excluded water-borne recreational access to many other backcountry streams and lakes of both parks to protect the ecological integrity of these reaches and to purposely reduce human intrusions and impacts.

In addition to the ecological concerns, opening up these river stretches to new recreational use will require additional management and staff time to deal with additional recreation at a time when Park budgets are already stretched thin.

Finally, it is a dangerous precedent as well as an intrusion upon Park Service authority and expertise for Congressperson Lummis to impose a legislative mandate upon park authorities.

It is not like there aren’t many other places for one to boat in a wildlands setting. A person could spend a lifetime boating the rivers, lakes, and oceans now available to non-motorized recreationalists throughout the West. Is it asking too much to have at least a few areas of the West where recreation is secondary to ecological preservation?

It is dismaying to see folks in the wildlands recreational community supporting her legislation. They apparently put their personal enjoyment as first priority instead of making preservation of park resources including quietude, wildlife, and ecological integrity the prime consideration in park management.

Lummis legislation is unneeded and counter-productive to long term park integrity. It’s time for the recreation community to stand up and support limits on new recreational activities that can cumulatively impact our wildlands.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

94 Responses to Lummis Boating Legislation for Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks Misguided

  1. Scott Slocum says:

    Good article, thanks.

    People can express their opinions on this bill at PopVox.

      • Jeff says:

        Private boaters can be limited by permits, much like Dinosaur, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon etc…no beer cans or trash there. Lots of wildlife, the rivers in GTNP certainly aren’t wilderness per se.

        • Scott Slocum says:

          Jeff: that sounds like Kevin’s moderate proposal, below, which sounds reasonable to me.
          But again, these moderate proposals are not what the bill proposes.
          The bill would simply blow away the existing paddling regulations for Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the National Elk Refuge.

          • The bill would not “simply blow away the existing paddling regulations,” but instead restore the Park’s authority to manage rivers. The bill provides the park 3-years to evaluate where paddling would be appropriate and develop a river paddling management plan.

          • Jeff says:

            Blow away or lift the all out prohibition? Does the bill deny the NPS the authority to manage? OR does is simply not allow an outright ban?

            • Scott Slocum says:

              Jeff: good question. Where’s the answer? Not in this bill.

              I think there should be a replacement plan ready to go before the old plan is repealed. If there is one, I’ll be happy to read it and update my position on this bill.

              • Brad Meiklejohn says:

                Scott and Jeff,

                The answer is that the bill simply lifts the ban that has prevented NPS from consisting paddling as an appropriate use. The bill reserves all NPS discretion and management authority for any future paddling activity.

                Brad Meiklejohn, President
                American Packrafting Association

                • Scott Slocum says:

                  Brad: close, but not quite right. The bill would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior (and thus the National Park Service) from “issuing substantially-similar regulations.”

                  If there’s going to be a change in plan, there should be a new plan. The authors of this bill don’t seem to want to reveal it to us. I’m suspicious.

                • Brad Meiklejohn says:

                  There is no hidden agenda, Scott. The language you referred to was intended to keep NPS from instituting a similar ban to the one being lifted. The bill gives NPS 3 years to institute a plan to manage paddling.

                  Brad Meiklejohn, President
                  American Packrafting Association

      • Paddling in designated Wilderness is legal. Fortunately, many of the architects of the 1964 Wilderness Act, including Sigurd Olson and Olaus Murie, were paddlers. Viewing paddling as a “primitive and unconfined type of recreation,” wildernesses, like Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, were established specifically to protect opportunities for long distance travel by paddle-craft.

        “When you go into country by pack train the streams are only for crossing, or to camp beside. To know a stream you travel on it, struggle with it, live with it hour by hour and day by day,” wrote wildlife biologist and wilderness advocate Olaus Murie after canoeing the Yellowstone River with his two sons.

    • The great successes in protecting wilderness during the 20th century was (at least in part) do to the founders and architects emphasizing the importance of wilderness experience, especially for future generations. As a member of that future generation that takes full advantage of these opportunities for wilderness experience, I believe it critical to experience and celebrate wildlands and rivers. Without the personal connection to wilderness that Muir, Marshall, Leopold, Brower, Olson, and Murie shared, there won’t be another generation of wilderness advocates.

      Some call it recreation. I call it communion.

      “Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality. Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road.” – Bob Marshall

      • I should of also mentioned Doug Tompkins in my list of outdoors people, who if not for the experiences he had climbing and recreating in wildlands, there would be no Center for Deep Ecology and Wuerthner would not have a job

    • Visitation in Yellowstone’s backcountry has been declining. The Park uses the trend of declining backcountry wilderness travel to justify spending millions of dollars on interpretive centers, instead of encouraging visitors to get out of their cars and experience the parks. As someone who has spent 25 years exploring the most remote regions of both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park I can testify there are fewer people in the backcountry then ever. Allowing visitors to experience Yellowstone’s remote waterways by one of the most elegant and least impactful means of wilderness travel can be done sustainably and is something that should be embraced by the rest of the conservation community.

      It’s important for all the naysayers to understand that this bill is the result of the NPS violating both NEPA and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; the NPS refused to consider paddling when drafting the Snake Rivers Headwaters Wild and Scenic Management Plan by hiding behind archaic 1950’s fishing regulations. This was a major insult to those of us in the paddling community that worked hard championing the Wild and Scenic designation for the Snake River and its headwaters.

      This River Paddling Protection Act would remove those archaic 1950’s fishing regulations and restore the authority of the NPS to manage river paddling. The bill provides the NPS three years to do so, a reasonable amount of time. Those of us that support this bill do not want the wilderness character of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton impaired. Instead we are asking for a fair and publicly vetted process that would produce a river paddling management plan that would “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

      • Elk375 says:


        ++This River Paddling Protection Act would remove those archaic 1950’s fishing regulations and restore the authority of the NPS to manage river paddling.++

        What are these archaic fishing 1950’s regulations. I read the last year’s Yellowstone Park regulations and they are up to date, they was one sentence that was confusing. I saw nothing in them about archaic 1950’s regulations. I remember fishing in the Yellowstone Park in the 1950’s when I was a wee lad and one could kept three cutthroats in Yellowstone Lake. I am just curious about how these erstwhile regulations effect on today’s actives.

        • The reasoning behind the original 1950 paddling ban in YNP and 1962 ban in GTNP has been invalid for decades. River boating was banned in YNP to relieve fishing pressure and perceived conflicts with bank fishermen on popular angling rivers, such as the Madison, Firehole, and Yellowstone rivers. Yet, no empirical studies have verified that the paddling ban has reduced fishing pressure, nor have fisheries impacts from paddlers who paddle the area’s rivers without fishing been documented. Moreover, conflicts between paddlers and anglers (many recreational users participate in both activities) have not been shown to exist, and mitigation measures for perceived conflicts have not been prepared. Since the 1950s, regulation of angling in the Parks has evolved its own set of rules regarding where, when, and what type of fishing is permitted. Conflict between use groups is rare and paddlers and anglers are often the same people. You can view the YNP Paddling Ban CFR at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2013-title36-vol1/pdf/CFR-2013-title36-vol1-sec7-13.pdf and the GTNP Ban CRF at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2013-title36-vol1/pdf/CFR-2013-title36-vol1-sec7-13.pdf

          • Elk375 says:


            ++Moreover, conflicts between paddlers and anglers (many recreational users participate in both activities) have not been shown to exist, and mitigation measures for perceived conflicts have not been prepared. Since the 1950s, regulation of angling in the Parks has evolved its own set of rules regarding where, when, and what type of fishing is permitted. Conflict between use groups is rare and paddlers and anglers are often the same people.++

            Since Yellowstone Park does not allow paddling there should be no conflicts between paddler’s and fishermen. In the last 35 years, I have seen the Gallatin River which starts in Yellowstone go from no boats (one or two) to hundreds of rafts and kayaks between Big Sky and Spanish Creek at the mouth of the canyon. There have been times when I had to stop fishing for ten to fifteen minutes while the commercial rafting companies float 20 plus boats thorough a section of stream. Montana state law says that boaters must yield the right of way to bank anglers. I have never seen a commercial raft company yield to bank fisherman and I have heard about wade fisherman being knot over by rafts. Since the fisherman were on the Gallatin River first in numbers I think that they have precedent in use.

            The real problem is to many people.

            • That can be easily addressed in Yellowstone by limiting how many launches a day and not allowing commercial use. To address these type of legitimate concerns we successfully advocated that the bill in no way limit the Parks’ discretion to sustainably manage paddling.

  2. birdpond says:

    And once they get in there and ruin the sanctity of the remote waterways and areas, degrading them just a little more, that opens the Pandora’s box to another insult, then another – until they get their way – More roads, more infrastructure, some logging here and there, more hunting and traps, a bit of mining . . . You get the idea. That’s why we have to draw a line in the sand and say NO MORE – Like should have been done in the Frank Church No Return Wilderness area when they sent the hired goon in to remove two wolf packs (all of 10 animals who, if they belonged anywhere,certainly belonged there) to protect their ‘precious elk’. Elk that – ironically – they now have to hire someone to kill because they’re becoming detrimental to farmers and homeowners and are over-browsing the land. when will politicians learn to just leave things alone?

  3. Joseph C. Allen says:

    Lummis is one of the most distrustful politicians I have ever seen. She is in the pocket of every “land raping” entity there is……such an embarrassment to Wyoming and the nation.

    • john philip says:

      Can Wyoming be embarrassed? Idaho sure can’t.

    • CodyCoyote says:

      Wyoming is not embarrassed by Lummis. She rerpesents the state well—THAT is the problem . After all, we’re the cowboy clan that sent Dick Cheney to Congress for six terms. ( And Lummis’ predecessor the venal Barbara Cubin if that adds an exclamation point.)

      Wyoming by and large approves of Lummis . She is They.

      But she does not represent me. Count me in the camp who cringe when Cyndy Lu Who says she is legislating anything on any topic. It’s almost always special interest pro-resource abuse when she does.

  4. Joanne Favazza says:

    Can’t we just have some places where humans aren’t allowed to intrude? The wildlife in Yellowstone are stressed enough without this additional disruption to their lives. It’s getting harder and harder for wildlife to get away from people in Yellowstone, and this will only make it worse. And, the rangers will be stretched thin trying to deal with all of the human stupidity and recklessness that will inevitably occur. Bad idea. Very bad.

  5. Daniel Semler says:

    One bad idea after another by politicians who should spend their time on issues that are already screwed up without taking the time to screw something that isn’t. Another bad dog idea from our “Leaders?!!”

  6. Jeff says:

    Is her bill pushing for commercial use of other waterways within the parks or private boating? If folks can backpack, bank/wade fish, hike or photograph in these same areas, why is in inappropriate to float by in a quiet human power craft moving at the speed of the current? Glacier, Grand Canyon, GTNP all allow rafting what’s the difference?

    • Elk375 says:

      If they allowed private boating in Yellowstone Park from July 4th until late August the Firehole River from Old Faithful to the Swimming hole would look like the Lower Madison River from Warm Springs Creek to Black’s Ford in July.

      The Firehole would have beers cans floating in the river and tossed on the banks, drunks unable to do anything but soak up the sun and pop open a fresh beer. Then the river would acquire an artificial invasive hatch …..the bikini hatch. I do not want boats on the rivers of Yellowstone.

    • Nancy says:

      See Elk’s comments below 🙂

  7. Ida Lupines says:

    Why is she doing this, with everything else of importance that needs attention? I think the states don’t like and never have liked that National Parks are out of their jurisdiction. Beware!

  8. Logan says:

    I really don’t know which way I think about this one. If the areas can be accessed by foot then I don’t see why it would be a problem to allow access by boat unless it will significantly increase the amount of traffic in certain areas. I would say that I am opposed to this legislation until it can be proven how it will be managed without having a negative impact and how this can be implemented without opening the door for increasing other special interest uses throughout the park.

    • Alina says:


      Under this legislation the park would have 3 years to figure out how to manage paddling on the rivers. National Parks across the nation have to do this – Yellowstone’s ban on paddling is an outlier. There are a lot of different ways to manage this type of use – may of the same methods that are used to keep backpacker, horseback riders or cross-country skiers at sustainable levels. For some examples of the various methods take a look at Denali, which permits paddling in the same way it does backpacking (http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/packrafting.htm). The Selway, which is a wild and scanic river that runs through wilderness ares has a lottery system where people apply for permits to go down the river during the buiest part of the year. This helps ensure that the wilderness characteristic of the river is maintained (http://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?page=details&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=75535). Zion national park limits paddling on the Virgin river to times when the flows are too high for people to wade up it. Most of the year hikers have access and paddlers don’t. Olympic National Park allows paddling on all their rivers, but only allows guided trips on one river, the newly restored (Yea!) Elwah, where they recently removed a couple outdated dams.

      Under this legislation the park would have 3 years to figure out how to manage paddling on the rivers. National Parks across the nation have to do this – Yellowstone’s ban on paddling is an outlier. There are many different ways to manage this type of use – many of these are the same methods that are used to keep backpacker, horseback riders or cross-country skiers at sustainable levels. Here are some examples of different strategies: Denali permits paddling in the same way it does backpacking (http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/packrafting.htm). The Selway, which is a wild and scenic river that runs through wilderness, has a lottery system where people apply for permits to go down the river during the busiest part of the year. This helps ensure that the wilderness characteristic of the river is maintained (http://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?page=details&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=75535). Zion National Park limits paddling on the Virgin River to times when the flows are too high for people to wade up it. Most of the year hikers have access and paddlers don’t. Olympic National Park allows paddling on all their rivers, but only allows guided trips on one river, the newly restored (yea!) Elwah, where they recently removed a couple outdated dams.

      On the note of special interests – NPS policies generally support non-mechanized uses of the parks over mechanized uses. So swimming, horse back riding, human-powered boating, and hiking are all types of uses the NPS is suppose to encourage. They are also suppose to support uses that were historically present in or near that park unit. For example, horseback riding and boating on rivers were probably present in Yellowstone, but hang-gliding (probably?) wasn’t. In no way would this legislation remove the NPS’s responsibility to leave Yellowstone “unimpaired for future generations”, and park managers would have full discretion to adjust the number of permits, which rivers are open to paddling, and where permits were required in the future. In short this legislation puts Yellowstone’s policies inline with NPS policies and the way paddling is managed in other national parks. It doesn’t force the national park to do something that is atypical for a national park, but instead removes and atypical ban on a specific use, that was put in place for reasons that are no longer relevant.

      I hope that helps with your indecision.



  9. Barb Rupers says:

    Thanks for the article.

    Some interesting discussion at Yellowstone Net from last November on this issue: http://forums.yellowstone.net/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=17354

    I agreed with many of the commenters there, especially BlackDragonsCaldron:
    “Yellowstone was not set aside as our first National Park because it could provide a world class whitewater experience or any other kind of recreational experience. It was established for far more critical reasons – to preserve and protect a landscape so rare that despite the movement to develop and commercialize/industrialize the west, members of Congress found it to be worth protecting as a NATIONAL PARK, not a National Recreation Area.”

    • Actually, Yellowstone National Park was originally set aside because the railroad lobby wanted it so they could sell seats in passenger trails. The ecological benefits are a wonderful bi-product that we all should be very grateful for.

  10. Kathleen says:

    Why are politicians delisting endangered species when they aren’t wildlife biologists? Why are politicians mandating X amount of logging on national forests when they aren’t professional foresters? Why are politicians micro-managing national parks when they lack any expertise? (They’ve put guns in the parks, why not kayaks?) Probably either because they’re up for re-election or they’re doing favors for constituents who’ve lobbied them. Or both.

    “The bill came about, says Pruzan, largely in part from pressure from the American Packrafting Association, based in nearby Wilson, Wyo., and the lobbying of Lummis by its vice-president, Thomas Turiano. “They kind of got the ball rolling on it,” he says, “and got in touch with Lummis.””


  11. Ida Lupines says:

    Lobbying of Lummis

    translation: Campaign funds

    This kind of politics must end. With all the problems this country is facing, why is this important?

  12. Kevin says:

    I am a paddler, a proponent of the bill, and identify strongly with the concept of deep ecology. The connections with nature i have formed while paddling rivers have fueled my conservation career and greatly enriched my life. While I am certainly not in this league, all of our great environmental leaders had a direct connection with the land through outdoor recreation. Roosevelt, Murie, Muir, Craighead, Marshall, Brower, Abbey, Chouinard, and the list goes on – all were specialized outdoors people who skied, paddled, climbed, and/or hiked. The same is true of todays leaders. I disagree that well-managed outdoor recreation threatens the natural values or philosophical spirit of protected lands, rather, it celebrates the land and spirit of protection, honors those who visited and then protected the lands, and keeps the wild lands and spirit of protection alive and relevant in a changing world. If floating a river is the enemy, than wild places have few friends. This is not the case though. Paddlers are active conservationists, pushing for dam removals, Wild and Scenic river designations, and we travel extremely light on the land.

    Paddlers can’t just go somewhere else in the west as the author suggests. Paddling is a place-based activity. It is, to me, at risk of sounding hokie, a language that allows one to speak with a place and the vocabulary is vast and rich. There is only one Yellowstone, and paddling through it would be a unique and valued experience. It is also really high quality, akin to climbing in Yosemite, or hiking in the Tetons. It is wrong to dismiss this experience as transferable to other locations, and wrong to underestimate the impacts the ban has on youth and adults alike living near or visiting the park.

    Sure there are some places and times in Yellowstone where people should just not be present, whether paddling or not, but not the whole park. The bill makes the NPS take a look at paddling and manage it under modern analysis and norms commensurate with other similar activities, rather than 60 year old fishing regulations. It does not require paddling. I strongly believe that paddling in certain amounts would be appropriate in some places during some times – and probably not others. It can be sustainably managed as it is elsewhere, and have a very small footprint. Visitors would most often be managed with the same capacities and limits whether they wanted to visit a stream to hike, paddle, or fish, so paddling would not even result in increased use in many areas. All other parks and forests sustainably manage paddling within their budgets and missions, and Yellowstone can too.

    • birdpond says:

      Thoughtful and sincere, heart-felt comment, beautifully said – You have made me re-think this. thank you.

    • Scott Slocum says:

      Kevin: this bill would do nothing but blow away existing paddling regulations in Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, and the National Elk Refuge.
      This bill is nothing like your moderate proposal to allow only “appropriate paddling in certain amounts in some places during some times.”
      So if there’s a bill in the works with your moderate proposal, let’s hear it. I guess I’d probably vote for it (but I’d want to hear from the other experts first).

    • Elk375 says:

      What you and others really want to do is paddle the Yellowstone River between Roosevelt Junction and Gardiner, Montana. It is one of the last best rivers in the US that has not been paddled, excepted for poachers. I think no.

    • Scott Slocum says:

      Looks like there’s a nice stretch of the Yellowstone River for boating downriver from Gardiner, MT as shown in the documentary film Where the Yellowstone Goes.

  13. Kevin

    I am probably as much a paddler as you having been a river ranger, wilderness guide, and wildlands explorer. I know that recreation can be a great way for people to connect to wildlands. And certainly I recognize that many paddlers have been voices for wildlands protection. One hopes that the reason they are advocates for wild rivers isn’t just selfish–that they hope to run the rapids or whatever.

    And that is the jest of this debate. There appears to be a subset of the conservation movement that only supports conservation if it’s in their personal interest either financially and/or recreationally to do so. And this selfish attitude has lead to compromises that harm our national treasures.

    Yellowstone, in particular, is the banner for parks around the world. If we can’t put the park’s natural resources first here than where?

    I also believe quite strongly there should be places off limits to human intrusion, where our first priority is giving space to wildlife, ecological processes and even the idea of remoteness or untrodden terrain. As our population has grows and our technology and skill grow it allow us greater and greater access to remote areas of the Earth it behooves us to ask when is there too much? And if any more access is too much.

    It does not take a genius to see where paddle access to these parks could lead. Even regulated access is going to increase impacts. As soon as rivers like the Yellowstone are opened to paddle sports, there will be demand for guided trips, and rafting companies will be there to provide for that demand, and will continuously lobby for even more permits and people. Look at the Grand Canyon and its management.

    Under the circumstances it is the best one can expect, but how much better ecologically, and even spiritually would the Grand Canyon be if the only access were by foot as before rubber rafts and fiberglass/plastic kayaks?

    This bill is the proverial camels nose under the tent and don’t think for a moment it isn’t. It’s about fracturing the park’s supporters, over extending the parks’financial resources further, and the hell with the park’s wildlife and other values.

    There are plenty of places to paddle in the West as you no doubt know. More than you will ever paddle in a lifetime. Let’s leave Yellowstone inviolate.

    • Jeff says:

      Yeloowstone is not inviolate to start with. Nothing in this bill says paddling has to be a free for all, it just lifts the complete prohibition. Grand Canyon, Dinosaur, and Canyonlands all have tight regulations and private and commercial river trips. GTNP and Yellowstone could regulate, but it is less interrupting to wildlife to float by then it is to bank fish or hike along the Yellowstone down to Gardiner which I and many others routinely do. The all out prohibition is bad policy just like a complete free for all would be bad policy. Issuing permits and allowing a limited number of boaters on these few stretches would be far less impactful than all the other activities that are already allowed.

      • Scott Slocum says:

        I don’t know, but I doubt Jeff’s opinion that “it is less interrupting to wildlife to float by than it is to bank-fish or hike along the Yellowstone.” In my own experience, I’ve surprised wildlife much more often while paddling than while hiking. As great an opportunity as those surprises were for me, I felt that I had intruded.

        • Jeff says:

          I’ve floated by bears, moose, deer, bighorns, otters, none were overly alarmed, they seem to understand the element of separation in my eyes. If the problem is intrusion it should limit people rather than means of access/travel.

  14. John says:

    Led by Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, the Republicans want to amend the law to limit litigation from wildlife advocates that has resulted in protections for some species. And they want to give states more authority over imperiled species that fall within their borders. – See more at: http://westhawaiitoday.com/news/nation-world-news/lawmakers-seek-overhaul-endangered-species-act#sthash.6IWlxoMq.dpuf

  15. Scott says:

    As an angler, paddler and lover of Yellowstone, I’m conflicted on this bill. On the one hand, it’s easy to oppose it because its a perfect example of Congress meddling where it has no business. Plus, it’s just the kind of unfunded mandate that Tea Partiers like Rep. Lummis love to rail against. On the flip side, I don’t think paddling in Yellowstone has to be a black or white, all or nothing issue. There are undoubtedly some waters in Yellowstone where allowing limited paddling would have minimal to no impacts on wildlife or existing user groups like anglers and wildlife-watchers. The Lewis River canyon and the headwaters of the Snake River might fit that description. There are other waters like the Madison, Firehole, Lamar (in the Lamar Valley), and Yellowstone (in Hayden Valley) rivers where allowing boating simply would not be appropriate. It’s a shame that the Park Service wasn’t willing to discuss this issue outside of the courtroom or the halls of Congress.

  16. Ida Lupines says:

    Some Places on Earth Should Remain Untouched

    Headwaters and water supplies should remain pristine and ‘untramelled’ – I’d hate to see these rivers polluted with beer cans, plastic water bottles, and God knows what else humans leave behind. Blech!!!

  17. Ida Lupines says:

    Every special interest group anywhere takes precedence over wilderness protection, wildlife and the environment.

    If they would ban plastic water bottles and beer cans, maybe that would help. But then you’d have the Plastic Bottlers Association of America making a stink, and/or Coke and Pepsi. That recently happened when they tried to ban plastic water bottles in the Grand Canyon.

  18. John says:

    Has anyone thought about the increased risk of bear encounters that the boaters/paddlers may effect? They potentially will encounter bears, balk and grizzly. If there is a bear mauling do we exterminate the bear because a paddler wanted more access to waters?

  19. Brad Meiklejohn says:

    The American Packrafting Association is a proponent of H.R. 3492, a bill in Congress to allow human-powered paddling on the rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks.

    The bill would lift a paddling ban that was put in place 60 years ago to prevent overfishing. The National Park Service has leaned on the ban ever since as justification for not considering paddling as an allowed use on 700 boatable river miles in the parks.

    George Wuerther takes a Machiavellian view on the paddling ban because it achieves his ends of limiting human activity in the parks. But the ban is poor public policy because it was put in place with no public process and the original concern about overfishing has been addressed. The ban has outlived its intended purpose.

    We don’t manage our public lands through arbitrary bans and outdated rules, no matter how much we agree with them or like the consequences. We now manage public lands through public processes, in which all compatible uses are evaluated on a fair playing field. The proponents of the River Paddling Protection Act are simply asking for a fair analysis of paddling opportunities on the 700+ miles of runnable rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks.

    The board and many of the members of the American Packrafting Association are dedicated conservationists who have worked hard to protect wild rivers and wild lands. We believe in the freedom to roam and feel that packrafting can be accommodated in these two parks with no new infrastructure and little impact to budgets, wildlife or other users. We agree that there are sensitive areas in the parks, such as the Lamar Valley, that should remain closed to paddling and that commercial paddling and tubing should remain prohibited.

    We understand George Wuerthner’s desire to see Yellowstone as a strict nature preserve off-limits to human use. If that were the case we would not be advocating to get in.

    We are in this place partly because the National Park Service has taken a heavy-handed approach to law enforcement against paddlers, including arrest, fines and gear confiscations. Packrafters may be outlaws but we are not criminals.

    Some have said that we are being used by the bill’s sponsors as a stalking horse for commercial interests, and that this bill is the camel’s nose under the Yellowstone tent. We disagree. We sincerely believe that the National Park Service can find a way to allow some paddling on the rivers of these parks. They have done it in nearly every other park in the nation and the sky has not fallen there.

    We are eager to help the National Park Service implement our vision for low-impact paddling on the rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

    Brad Meiklejohn, President
    American Packrafting Associatin

    • rork says:

      Can folks point to places where boating is allowed, but where there are no commercial interests involved?

      • Scott says:

        Rock Creek, Montana – 20 miles east of Missoula.

      • Brad Meiklejohn says:


        We would point you to Rainier, Olympic, Glacier, North Cascades national parks as examples where private paddling is allowed but commercial is not or is extremely limited.

        Brad Meiklejohn

  20. John says:

    GYC strongly opposes this legislation. See link below:

    • Brad Meiklejohn says:

      The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is wrong in its assertion that the bill strips management discretion from NPS. It does not. The bill is explicit that NPS will retain full management discretion. The bill simply lifts an outdated ban that was put in place 60 years ago to regulate fishing. Ever since NPS has used the ban as their excuse for not considering paddling on rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

      Brad Meiklejohn, President
      American Packrafting Association

  21. Roman Dial, PhD says:

    Like Brad Meiklejohn, Kevin C., and Forrest McCarthy above, I am in favor of the bill.

    My reading of this opinion piece and many of the emotional responses is that Mr. Wuerthner’s aesthetics masquerade as a concern for “ecological damage”.

    As an ecologist I would ask that Mr. Wuerthner’s please describe the hypothesized “ecological damage” that would follow an opening of Yellowstone-Grand Teton rivers to non-motorized travel. And once that “ecological damage” has been articulated, to balance it against the democratic and cultural strength we gain in sharing non-motorized wildlands as non-motorized users. One cultural strength we gain in conservation is by getting young people to paddle and enjoy wildlands using only their bodies, as it is they who will need to carry on the demand for rivers, woods, and mountains without motors.

    Moreover, Yellowstone NP appears quite ecologically healthy when compared to other landscapes in the American West — a healthy ecosystem that could quite easily absorb regulated paddling of its wild waters.

    Finally, there are so many more important conservation and environmental issues concerning real ecological damage that we should work together to solve. Among us who enjoy nature using only our own muscles and wits for movement, isn’t this sort of divisive splintering over aesthetics counterproductive?

    • Nancy says:

      Roman & Forrest – you have not convinced me that these areas need to be opened to paddlers.

      Adding more ways for humans to entertain themselves, at the expense & tranquility of the Park’s fulltime residents (wildlife) who live in and around these waters, is ridiculous.

      I agree with George:

      There are plenty of places to paddle in the West as you no doubt know. More than you will ever paddle in a lifetime. Let’s leave Yellowstone inviolate.

      • Mark L says:

        Just curious what the implications of this, combined with the ‘Sportsmans Heritage Act’ would be. Anybody?

        • WM says:

          “what implications…?”

          The group Mr’s. Micklejohn, Dial et al, represent are thrill-seekers. They want access.

          Here’s another little goodie. If anybody gets hoodwinked into thinking there is a not a commercial aspect to this, they are dumber than a rock. From the APA website:

          ++Sponsors – We would like to thank our latest sponsors, Alpackaraft (www.alpackaraft.com) and Jackson Hole Packraft Rentals (www.jhpackraft.com).

          APA is seeking sponsorships from business, including gear companies, retailers, and guides and outfitters. If you or your business are interested in being a sponsor of APA, please contact us at info@packraft.org.++

          Just how fkn stupid do you think we are?

          • Brad Meiklejohn says:


            To calm your fears you should know that the annual budget of the American Packrafting Association is $3,000, including our sponsorships from Jackson Hole Packraft Rentals and Alpacka Raft. None of our sponsors has a commercial interest in paddling in Yellowstone.

            Brad Meiklejohn, President
            American Packrafting Association

            • WM says:

              Brad Meiklejohn,

              Sorry, not buying your line. If a business rents or sells inflatable boats for use in the Park there is a commercial interest; if a guide has clients there is a commercial interest (even if the guide is not licensed as we know sometimes happens); if a board or advisory member of yours is in the rafting business there is a commercial interest; if Lummis worked on ” …the bill with Rendezvous River Sports/Jackson Hole Kayak School, American Whitewater and the American Packrafting Association, as reported by her spokesman, Joe Spiering,” there is a commercial interest.

              So, if a rafting business sells or rents boats and equipment, guides, provides accommodations, maps or other resources to would be boaters on new waters in these national parks THERE IS a commercial interest.

              Even if your organization’s budget is small, and your organization young, it still has political influence through its membership and connections.

              I do not believe for one minute there is not a commercial motivation here. Also, the last thing I want to see in a river or stream in a national park is a half dozen brightly colored red, yellow and orange tubes with occupants bobbing down a remote water way that took me a couple days to hike into, yelling, ” Whoooohooooo! That last stretch was awesome, dude!” when I came to the park for some quiet solitude, or try to take a photograph of a pastoral scene. Kind of ruins the mood.

              Don’t get me wrong, I think backpack rafting is cool. I began doing it on high lakes in the Wind River Range in the 1980’s when the lightest raft I could find was about 12 pounds, plus a couple of old blue military surplus aluminum paddles. Maybe there still is a place for them on high mountain lakes, but for use by thru hikers on small streams and rivers in national parks, used by others (especially with large numbers of people in more accessible areas), I think they are mostly, if not entirely, out of place.

              There are plenty of other places to raft – you don’t need to do it in a few special places, Yellowstone and Teton being better off without them.

              • birdpond says:

                Uhm, that is the worst argument I’ve ever heard. We want to leave the place pristine, leave the wildlife a safe and peaceful refuge FROM humans and human activity. Writing about a place in its defense is not compromising it in any way. Allowing more people and all their assorted mayhem and disruption into a formerly untrammeled area, on the other hand, can have an irrevocable, disruptive negative impact. If nothing else, wild creatures, under assault from all sides, deserve to have some place that is just for them, alone, so they can dance to those distant, primeval rhythms that are drowned out and short-circuited by human activity almost everywhere else.

                Give nature this one. You’ll be fine. The world will be better off without us there.

      • Ida Lupines says:

        So do I. This is just a gradual chipping away of the goal of our national parks and the Endangered Species Act, and of course $ for the special interests. Allowing guns there is already a threat.

        The rules haven’t changed since the 1950s for a reason. There are plenty of places for sedentary kids to get out and paddle already. How selfish we have become – these rivers are not just for recreation but water supplies and habitat. Let’s see them circumvent any environmental review as well. I do not trust them.

        • birdpond says:

          I have to concur – I spent a couple days trying to see/feel how changing my stance against opening up more areas to human use – with the ‘benefit’ of instilling greater appreciation in people – yet still all I can see is, wherever humans step, environmental degradation occurs. It might be delayed, it might not be ‘direct’ (ie, perhaps the floats won’t leave litter behind) but it opens the door for still more insults to the land – launching and landing areas, latrines, snack stands, roads . . . Don’t open this Pandora’s box. I mean, look what happened in the Frank Church ‘Wilderness’ area – The nation should be ashamed. Some things MUST remain sacred.

        • Jeff says:

          Folks can already access these streams and rivers and they do. Do they trash them on foot? What is the difference between sitting on the shore and floating in the human powered craft?

    • birdpond says:

      Isn’t that exactly the point? We are attacking ecosystems, wilderness and wildlife on all fronts, here and around the globe, Someone needs to draw a line in the sand and say NO MORE.

      Because, truly, this planet doesn’t need any more areas with human footprints in them. There are plenty of ways to instill love of nature and learn the sense of awe, interconnectedness and interdependence of all life on the Earth, without having to dip our toe in every puddle.

      I remember growing up watching Wild Kingdom – Almost every creature that flourished, even that were considered common then – are now, horrifyingly, on the brink of extinction, due solely to human activity.

      In my lifetime.

      Can you see what a nightmare, what an emergency, this truly is?

      I’d say we’ve already shown that we can’t be trusted to not poop in our own crates, to use a dog training term.

      Keep some places pristine and safe from human meddling.

      • Brad Meiklejohn says:

        WM, please contact me off-line so that we can continue this good conversation. I extend the invitation to birdpond and Ida Lupines. We think civil discourse is furthered when we know the real names of those we are addressing.

        Brad Meiklejohn

        • WM says:

          Brad Meiklejohn,

          My name is not important. What is important is the spin that you guys are putting on a piece of general legislation that directs the Park Service to do things which, in the opinion of some, significantly detract from the purpose for which Yellowstone and Teton were created. It is already over-commercialized; it doesn’t need more.

          Forgive me for being a bit sensitive to national parks that already allow more liberal floating. Example: About three years ago I walked into a stretch of the Hoh River in Olympic NP, below Morgan’s Crossing (a crude put in for boats). I had been fishing in solitude, enjoying the sound of the water, even a bald eagle flying back and forth on this stretch, that takes awhile to hike into, through thick brush, and downed timber. I looked up stream to hear voices – then bright yellow rubber ducky boats. There were 25 of them (I counted them) coming down – hooting and hollering all the way. I could see them about a quarter mile up stream, and then another 300 yards below me, as they floated past not twenty yards in front of me. Forget any steelhead that would have been in the only part of the river I could reach by walking to that point. It turned out this was a group of Air Force guys from McChord AFB in Tacoma – they were on a “survival” training exercise. Their training officer picked the spot. So, for the next twenty minutes or so, boat after boat went by. My fishing experience – well it was pretty much shot. I drove up to their launch spot and saw two big blue AF school buses.

          Doesn’t Roman Dial (who is on your board, and a fellow paddler) also have his own packrafting instructional book out for sale, with a forward, by Jon Krakauer, author of “Into Thin Air” that chronicles the commercialization of high altitude climbing on Mt. Everest. And, don’t you guys all have videos of your floats on Youtube [I even wonder about the lyrics from one of Dial’s videos that has background music from The Kills – what does the phrase, “f–k like broken sail” mean?

          I am also intrigued by your statement above:

          ++We are in this place partly because the National Park Service has taken a heavy-handed approach to law enforcement against paddlers, including arrest, fines and gear confiscations. Packrafters may be outlaws but we are not criminals.

          Some have said that we are being used by the bill’s sponsors as a stalking horse for commercial interests, and that this bill is the camel’s nose under the Yellowstone tent. ++

          So you think you are above the law by violating federal regulations, because its ok to be an outlaw and paddle where you are not supposed to? Seems to me some of you IN FACT may be/are criminals by virtue of citations or convictions for doing some of the things you reference.

          I will be contacting my US Senators to stop this foolishness.

          • Immer Treue says:

            A giant + 1

            Bushmills like substance feeding the fires of discomfort with any extra possible erosion of the sanctity of what is still wild, by any and all shoehorns present and future, that are put forth.

            JHC leave it alone. Even in metaphorical terms, there are so few wild places remaining. This is nothing more than the proverbial foot in the door.


  22. Ida Lupines says:

    I do feel it is a classic case of foot-in-the-door, nose-in-the-tent concerns. I’m also concerned that the bill would try to override or exclude the Department of the Interior from these decisions. It’s a trend with the Western states to wrest control away from the Federal government, and I’m not convinced they can do a good job ‘managing’ our precious wild places and wildlife, if recent events are any indication.

    Not everyone values these places as a John Muir, Aldo Leopold, or Adolph Murie in today’s world.

    Is Lummis Bill A Mandate

  23. Ida Lupines says:

    This woman is on another committee trying to dismantle, ‘overhaul’ the Endangered Species Act and seek to further silence the voice of the people by limiting court challenges, and opening up our lands to more development. I think that says it all.

    Even more than ranching, I feel that energy development, ‘green’ and otherwise, is the biggest threat we have today to our wildlife and wilderness.


  24. Ida Lupines says:

    I’m more concerned about Western politics hiding behind the ‘awwww, now what harm can opening a protected area to a little innocent paddling do?’

  25. Ida Lupines says:

    Congress over-riding the National Park Service is not the way to decide which uses may or may not be appropriate in these iconic National Parks. The legislation as written eliminates critically important rules that have protected these two national icons for more than 40 years. The bill opens untouched rivers and streams that total approximately three and a half times the length of the entire Mississippi River. Increased human impact on these sensitive lands could harm sensitive wildlife species such as grizzly bears by increasing the potential for conflict in their most critical and core habitat. Sensitive species need space to go where they are not continually pressed and these are the last largely undisturbed places in the Parks. Yellowstone is America’s first National Park and this type of decision should require extensive environmental analysis not a three year deadline.


    Where will it end?

    • Brad Meiklejohn says:

      Sorry, Bart Melton, but that dog won’t hunt. The bill as passed does none of the things you suggest.

      The bill does not “open untouched rivers”, it does not “over-ride the National Park Service” and it does not “eliminate critically important rules.”

      The bill lifts an outdated ban that was put in place 60 years ago with no public process and which has outlived it’s intended purpose of regulating fishing. We don’t manage our public lands now through arbitrary rules and outdated bans.

      Bart Melton may not like the bill but he can take some of the blame for it. For decades NPCA, GYC and the NPS have given the cold shoulder to the boating community on this issue, refusing to even discuss it because of the paddling ban.

      As recently as this week Bart suggested that NPCA would talk with us if we pulled the bill. Yet the bill is the only reason they are willing to talk with us.

      We have made repeated overtures to NPCA and GYC to have a civil dialogue on our “reasonable proposals” that include permanent wildlife closures to protect sensitive species such as grizzly bears and wolves, no new infrastructure, tight limits on gear, seasons and permits. We look forward to NPCA and GYC joining these conversations.

      Brad Meiklejohn, President
      American Packrafting Association

      • Scott Slocum says:

        “Pulling the bill” in exchange for an agreement to work together seems like a fair idea. Settlements are more common than verdicts in court, and probably more common than successful bills in congress.

  26. Ida Lupines says:

    Mr. Meiklejohn, I’m sure your concerns are sincere.

    I wouldn’t be so concerned except that humans have access to virtually everywhere on the planet, why do we need to push it to the limit? Even Mt. Everest is becoming an overrun garbage dump. Our National Parks are already unparalleled experiences and an inspiration to kids and young people. I’m concerned that this will provide access and be an open invitation for the more unscrupulous among us to harm and poach wildlife, leave garbage, and fire damage. But it is our politicians seem to want to provide this unscrupulous access, and there appears to be a wildlife ‘management’ mania everywhere.

    And I still wish to see buffer zones around our National Parks.

    • Ida Lupines says:

      I should add that I imagine there is nothing more relaxing and more of a feeling communing with nature than canoeing or paddling on a serene stretch of water, for those of us who love bodies of water. Hiking too. 🙂

  27. Nancy says:

    This whole issue seems more about thrill seekers getting their kicks.

    “Kayakers aren’t the only group clamoring for access. Stand-up paddleboarders, snow kiters, snow bikers and BASE jumpers – along with ATV riders, remote-control airplane enthusiasts and Segway operators – have all requested access to Yellowstone’s iconic landscapes. Which raises a sticky question for national parks all over the country:

    Where do you draw the line?”


    • Scott Slocum says:

      Nancy: good article, “A group of paddlers works to make kayaking legal on Yellowstone’s rivers” by William Freihofer in the High Country News, 11/11/2013.

      The first thing I learned from this article is that the issue has, in fact, been extensively debated–probably in court and certainly in public and in the media. Simply put, paddlers want to paddle and conservationists want to conserve.

      The second thing I learned is that much of the passion comes from high-performance kayakers who want access to the “world-class whitewater of the Black Canyon.” Not the serene paddlers that many might be imagining.

      Mr. Meiklejohn’s false characterization of the current NPS regulations as “an outdated ban that was put in place 60 years ago with no public process and which has outlived its intended purpose of regulating fishing” is clearly one-sided, on the side of the high-performance kayakers etc.

      • Ida Lupines says:

        If there can be agreement on protecting species and certain areas not opened. I worry about danger too – what happens if a paddler(s) come across a grizzly?

        I’d hate to see more incidences of animals or people being hurt/killed because of human activity in the area that might not even be necessary. If we didn’t already dominate everywhere on the planet I might feel differently.

      • Jeff says:

        The Black Canyon has always been open, its tough access and several portages keep numbers down.

        • Scott Slocum says:

          My reference to Black Canyon is from the High Country News article:

          “… For a while, things went smoothly, and Doug Ammons, Rob Lesser and Bob McDougall splashed their way down the churning world-class whitewater of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. They camped, ate and got back in their boats to tackle the more challenging Black Canyon downstream. Then, as they scouted a class V rapid near the mouth of Hellroaring Creek, the distinct whup of helicopter blades emerged from the din of the crashing rapid. Glancing up, the trio saw men in Park Service uniforms glaring down…”

      • Alina says:

        Nancy and Scott,

        For what it is worth, I’m a paddler who has no interest in paddling the challenging whitewater described in the High Country News article. Generally, I appreciate HCN, but I found their coverage of this issue frustrating because it portrayed all the paddlers who have issues with YNP’s ban as being adrenaline junkies. In reality, I’m only interested in boating as a substitute for backpacking, and almost all my trips (besides the river that runs through the town I live in) have been in wilderness areas, or places that should be wilderness (like Utah’s Escalante River). And, for the record, I’d never break any Park Service rules – I use to work for them and I’d never want to put a ranger in a position of having to bust me.

        I’m interested in Yellowstone because they have some amazing class 2/3 rivers in that run through wilderness areas. I think their current policies are out of line with how paddling is managed in almost ever other National Park and Wilderness area. Our public land management agencies are suppose to consider all uses that historically occurred on the landscape and are allowed under the land designation and enabling legislation. Paddling rivers meets all those criteria in Yellowstone (snowmobiling, in contrast, does not, IMHO). Decisions about which of those appropriate uses are permitted in specific parts of the landscape, and how much of that use should occur are suppose to made within the context of public planning. In other words, other National Parks develop backcountry management plans or river management plans through which they determine, with public input, which types of uses can occur where, and how they will be regulated. Even though debate is occurring in the media, it should actually be occurring via. a formal planning process. In short, I think that the ban is preventing the park from doing their job: considering and regulating traditional uses in line with the Organic Act and the Yellowstone’s enabling legislation. The characterization of the NPS ban as being outdated really is correct. I encourage you to see this for your self by looking around on the internet for the planning documents for other National Parks and Wilderness areas, specifically the backcountry management plans, general management plans, and recreation management plans. Spend some time reading them and you will see the variety of different types of traditional uses—including paddling—that they consider.

        I would think it was just a wrong if the park was limiting their consideration of horseback riding or protect rare plant species – but I’ll admit that I’m a little more engaged because there might be some personal benefit for me. I would never want that benefit to come at the expense of the wildlife or other natural resources there, because those are the resources that make me value wilderness areas. I simply believe that the Yellowstone Park’s staff are just as capable at regulating use as were the managers in the many other national parks and wilderness areas I’ve backpacked, or boated in. And I think they have an obligation to do so.

    • Jeff says:

      Human powered crafts is a good line to draw, I can hike and wade fish all these bodies of water, but heaven forbid I float peacefully down the river—I’ve been a boater for years, I find it the preferred means of backcountry travel, not so much a thrill seeker anymore though surfing waves is a lot of fun. Can one not be a paddler and conservationist? I consider myself both.

      • Scott Slocum says:

        Yes, absolutely a person can be a paddler and a conservationist. I consider myself both. The only time I joined in to “shoot the rapids,” though, was between two lakes in the BWCAW. We knew that no one would be coming with an airlift if we ended up on a rock, so we didn’t try for any high-adventure whitewater. I think it’s great that people do that, but I’m also glad that the NPS is looking out for the wild rivers, and I’m suspicious of legislators who try to tie one hand behind their (NPS) back.

  28. Monty says:

    Concentrated human use along river corridors will lead to the “poop” problem. Who is going to pack the poop out? Along many river corridors, there is a finite number of pooping places available to boaters. For the previous several years, I have volunteered with the forest service to remove litter and encourage campers to properly dispose of human waste. It is often a thankless task. We grind on, place by place, turning the earth into a “vast human feedlot”.


January 2014


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey