GCPBA President’s Report – October, 2014

PRESIDENT’S REPORT

by Wally Rist, GCPBA President

October 30, 2014

I like to try to keep things short, but this report is going to be longer than usual. That’s because a lot has taken place in the last month. In early October, the Board held several meetings with Park officials, had extensive sessions of its own, as well as a membership meeting. So rather than put out separate messages, this President’s Letter is going to be broken down into those three broad categories.

GCPBA Board Meeting With Park Officials, Friday Oct 3, 2014

Prior to its regular meeting, representatives of the GCPBA Board met with Grand Canyon National Park officials to discuss the adaptive management considerations paper we submitted to the Park in early August. Chief River District Ranger Brain Bloom, Wilderness Planner Linda Jalbert, and River Permits Program Manager Steve Sullivan attended for the Park. Representing GCPBA were Board members Wally Rist, Rich Harter, Rich Turner and Rich Phillips.

The paper submitted for discussion can be found on the GCPBA web site at  http://gcpba.org/2014/08/15/gcpba-sends-colorado-river-management-plan-adaptive-management-considerations-to-the-park/

At the outset, Park representatives emphasized that any adaptive management changes could not involve triggering a full-blown CRMP review. They had held informal internal discussions prior to our visit, and wanted to be clear that those present were only there for the purpose of a discussion – as opposed to agreeing on final decisions on each item. GCPBA acknowledged and agreed the meeting was only to be a discussion session.

During the course of the meeting, several general concerns seemed to apply to the Park responses. It emerged that one of the Park’s guiding principles was providing what they believed to be a primary goal for private boaters from the 2006 CRMP -- “ the opportunity to go.” Their view was that as now configured, the current CRMP largely achieves that goal. An expressed concern was how proposed changes might lead to pirating -- private trips outside the definition and concept of equal sharing as required.  The Park has investigated several suspected incidents of pirate trips this year, heightening their desire that any changes not increase pirating opportunities. The Park referenced money as an issue in some cases, when other departments are involved. Also, in discussing several of the proposed changes they analyzed them in terms of the “teeter totter principle.” That is, before changing one portion of the plan there is a need to assess where else its effects might be felt, and what other parameters might be thrown out of balance.

Park personnel then proceeded to lead a point-by-point discussion of our previously submitted paper, as follows:

R-1 - Expediting the posting of cancelled launches.

The Park agreed with the importance of this item, and within a day it had already implemented a change addressing this recommendation.

R-2 - A recommendation for longer winter trips.

While it wasn’t warmly received, we were told that the Park would continue to consider this recommendation. Any proposed changes would have to be fully reviewed in light of teeter totter principle, involving issues such as increased social contacts, firewood use, etc.

D-1 - Changes to the One Trip a Year rule.

This, too, did not meet with a warm reception, and several reasons were presented. Use patterns show that no trips actually fail to be awarded at least once. Late cancellations were the biggest cause for unused launches, and it was not clear how changing the OTAY rule would materially change that fact. Pirating potential was a concern here as well. For example, a permit holder could retain a trip until the very last minute with the intention of “selling it” to a buddy by previous agreement. Based on this portion of the meeting, GCPBA concludes that the one trip a year rule is not likely to be modified any time soon. An extensive discussion on last minute cancellations followed, as well as fines, refunds, and PATL changes.

D-2 - Consider restructuring the method for awarding lottery points.

The Park indicated that they felt this was too big of a concept to consider under adaptive management.

D-3 - Increasing trip sizes.

This concept was not well received. The Park noted that the current trend seems to be toward smaller trips, not larger trips. Their view was that the teeter totter principle seemed to apply as well.

D-4 - Consider different methods for rescheduling unused launches.

The Park all but said it would be extremely difficult to envision moving trips from one season to another. However, we were asked to consider a concept they are still exploring, which they called front loading. (Others might call it overbooking.) This would be done seasonally, by adding a number of launches that would correspond to roughly the historic number of unused trips for that season. This front loading idea is still in the conceptual stage -- it is not a formal proposal. We agreed to explore this concept and provide additional feedback to the Park.

D-5 - Move some winter launches to allow additional small launches in March and October.

The idea of moving some trips from season to season did not get much traction, partly due to the teeter totter principle. What was emphasized here again was that the CRMP calls for essentially different Trips At One Time (TAOT) levels for different seasons. We learned that the maximum of 60 TAOTs applicable in the summer actually does not apply in other seasons.  The Park agreed they would send us more information on this. What was encouraging was that we got the impression the Park might consider the simple addition of some smaller trips in March and October. We will look into that extensively upon receipt of the additional information from the Park.

D-6 - Consider increasing the trip length for Sept 1-15 from 18 to 21 days.

This idea is a variant of the original trip length swap the Park put out for consideration a year ago. Some felt that if there was room for 21 day trips in September with the swap, there should still be room for 21 day trips in September, independent of what happened in late April. The Park did not agree -- part of the explanation was again the teeter totter principle.

The Park went on to explain that the TAOT overage in late April and early May remains unacceptable; a solution is still needed, and they only saw two possible options. The first is the original swap concept, which everyone agreed was unpopular with a number of boaters. The second option was dropping a small number (three was mentioned) of trips in late April and adding a corresponding number of trips in early September. This would result in no net loss of trips. This was discussed at some length. We explained that we suspected this concept would be just as unappealing to many boaters as was the trip length swap. We advised that we would give it further consideration and get back to them, which we have done.

This valuable session lasted three hours. The Park personnel in attendance indicated they would continue to consider these discussion items, and would remain open to additional input from GCPBA. Our follow up letter was sent to the Park on October 24, and can be seen on our web site at http://gcpba.org/2014/10/29/gcpba-adaptive-management-considerations-meeting-follow-up/.

GCPBA Board Meeting, Oct 4-5, 2014

The Board’s annual meeting opened with thanks to all for their participation, time, and energy, followed by a discussion of plans for the day, highlights of activities during the last year, and some of the topics that are likely to come up in the coming year, such as the LTEMP and the proposed LCR Escalade development.

Following a review of reports and ballots, it was noted that all Board members on the ballot were reelected. The Board then elected its officers for the coming year, as follows:

Wally Rist                  President

Dave Mortenson         Vice President

David Levine              Treasurer

Rich Phillips              Secretary

It was noted that Dave Yeamans and Kevin McIlhinny had both resigned from the Board for personal family reasons. Kevin’s resignation occurred after the ballots had been produced, and so his election to the Board was nullified. As well, contacts with a prospective new Board member, Helen Howard, were concluded after the ballots had been prepared. Consequently, the Board appointed Helen as a member, under bylaw provisions for such a situation.

There was an extensive discussion of the background of the workgroup paper, and the meeting with the Park the day before. Board members who attended that meeting reported that they found the Park’s concern about potential pirating was more important than previously understood. There was considerable examination of the front loading structure Steve Sullivan mentioned, and a follow-up letter to the Park is to be prepared on the TAOT issues. The Board expressed its thanks to the work group, and to David Levine specifically (as principal author), for their work on the paper.

The meeting resumed after lunch, and the Board was joined by Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, River Permits Program Manager Steve Sullivan, and Chief River District Ranger Brian Bloom. The session began by noting with appreciation the effort and time Park officials in attendance were devoting to this meeting.

Superintendent Uberuaga spent about an hour and a half discussing a wide range of issues including:

The proposed LCR Escalade project; the pending Backcountry Management Plan; emerging new Park uses; the Beaver Falls boundary; the NPS centennial in 2016; the pending 15 year, $1.5 billion concession contract; development issues in Tusayan; the mining industry; and, his personal observations of high amounts of traffic on main corridor trails. He specifically mentioned adaptive management (which he noted will not involve a complete reworking of the CRMP). He mentioned that while there is no requirement for a ten year revision of the CRMP, he is open to alternate ways of obtaining feedback on the CRMP’s performance, with an emphasis on transparency and equitable treatment of all parties. He also complimented GCPBA for its cooperative approach to working with other involved groups.

Brian Bloom discussed Lees Ferry personnel changes, noting that private boater issues at checkout are rare. He discussed on-river incidents (asking that private boaters be more diligent in filing the required reports when such events occur); deaths on the river; EMS responses (on the river, camp is the most dangerous place, then side hikes); the new policy on Pipe Creek camp; the high flow event in November; and the status of the ranger operation at Meadview.

Steve Sullivan made his usual fine presentation on permitting and lottery issues. It covered use statistics, seasonal use, trends in the lottery, trip sizes, unused launches, and upcoming lotteries. This material will be released on the Park web site. He suggested that people use an RSS feed feature to keep up with Park and GCPBA web site changes. He also noted that Yahoo blocks and filters some Park emails. Folks may want to use another provider and forward it to the blocking company. This is important because continually bounced emails may result in a person’s name being removed from the Park server.

Steve’s presentation concluded the final session on Saturday. The Board reconvened at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 5, with a wide-ranging discussion that resulted in development of an action list for individual Board members. Among other topics, there was a discussion of strategic and operational activities in support of goals, the issue of member communications; publication of “Meanders”; Yahoo Group and Facebook status; the concept of a Board public information officer; and, a moment of reflection and thanks for the contributions made by resigned members Dave Yeamans, Kevin McIlhinny and Richard Martin.

After a brief discussion, it was decided to hold next year’s Board and membership meetings at the same place, and at approximately the same time of year.

GCPBA Annual Membership Meeting, Sunday Oct 5, 2014

GCPBA convened its 2014 annual membership meeting at 1:00 PM, on October 5th, at the Doubletree Hilton in Flagstaff, AZ, with all Board members in attendance.

Attendees were welcomed, introductions were made, and a summary of the Board’s activities this weekend was provided, including discussions with Park officials. A general discussion and Q&A session followed. Among the topics covered were:

Member and other external communications.

Establishment of a public information officer role, to explore new communications options.

Demonstration of an Iridium satellite hot spot that can be used on trips.

Development and future plans for the GCPBA publication, “Meanders.”

NPS requests for private trips submitting incident reports more faithfully.

The need for making regular checks on lottery profile to be sure data is current.

The OTAY year rule.

The need to coordinate with other groups on Escalade and Tusayan issues.

A discussion of organizational, NPS, and tribal dynamics.

LTEMP issues that will be firming up in the next year.

Conclusion

This has been an active time for the Board. We’ve covered a lot of issues, and anticipate that the coming year will be active as well. The LTEMP, LCR Escalade, the Backcountry Management plan, and other major concerns are still out there. And it’s inevitable that detailed operational concerns will arise from time to time, requiring Board attention.

On behalf of the Board, I want to thank our members for their support, and for the encouragement we receive through emails, phone calls, and in ballot comments. Let’s all work together in the coming year to deal with these important issues, and continue to protect and advance the interests of private boaters in the Grand Canyon.

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