The Forest Service defended to Congress Tuesday proposed restrictions on rafting and boating on the Green River just below Flaming Gorge Dam as necessary to handle too many people.
But some Utahns and raft-tour operators say the river isn't overcrowded there, that the government is trying to fix something that isn't broken and that it may hurt recreation more with extra rules than some crowding ever did.And Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah - chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Land - urged the Forest Service in a hearing before his panel to seek moderation and make only those restrictions that are truly needed.
James R. Lyons, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, said 97,000 people visited the stretch of the river between Flaming Gorge Dam and the Utah-Colorado border last year, down a bit from a 1992 peak of 107,000.
But he said studies by the Forest Service on views of visitors about such crowds show "some of the perceptions are that there is no longer a quality recreation experience because of the number of people in the river corridor at one time."
So the Forest Service has proposed limiting the number of boat-tour operators, restricting the number of all rafts on the river at a given time and banning use of some flimsy rafts and tubes. It expects to issue revised, final proposed regulations soon.
But Harold Egbert, president of the Green River Guides and Outfitters Association, said that a 1991 Forest Service study said "on page 189 that 97 percent of the visitors were satisfied with their experience on the Green River."
He added, "Will the Green River be managed for the 3 percent that are dissatisfied or for the 97 percent that are satisfied with their experience?"
David Feltch, a Vernal resident who floats the river several times a year, noted that other nearby river stretches on the Green and the Yampa rivers already strictly limit rafts each day - so people wanting a wilderness experience could go there.
Feltch added, "For the Forest Service to say that if there are over `X' number of people on the river then no one is having fun is an overstepping of their duties."
He added that plans to limit the number of launches per hour during congested times will only make matters worse for larger groups of up to 100 people with whom he has floated.
"I wonder how much greater the congestion will be when a large group is forced to launch over a two- to three-hour time slot. This will result in long lines at the launch ramp, not to mention the problem it will cause at the take-out ramp with people waiting for several hours for the remainder of their group," he said.
Craig W. Collett, who operates Flaming Gorge Lodge and its raft tours, said, "The public is intelligent enough to decide for themselves if the river is too crowded. . . . On the Fourth of July weekend, crowding is fun. The more rafts and people, the merrier. For a tranquil fishing experience, during the week, early morning, early or late season would be best."
He added that because of news reports and controversy about the restrictions, "some people have already decided not to come to the Green River."
Under questioning by Hansen, Ashley National Forest Supervisor Bert Kulesza said it has no plans to make private citizens reserve times for launches. "But they may have to wait a while in line once they get there if it is crowded," he said.
Hansen urged the Forest Service to carefully review its plans and only issue restrictions if truly necessary to protect the river and people using it.
Feltch said, "Are we going to limit the number of people who are allowed to visit the Washington Monument or view the Grand Canyon because some people feel they would have a better experience if there were no one around?
He added, "If families feel they didn't have a good time, word would spread and the number of users will drop accordingly. We don't need a government agency regulating who can have fun and who can't."