Last week, information and links to proposals to manage climbing access in Wilderness Areas controlled by the National Park Service and US Forest Service were posted on ArkansasOutside.com. Since then Access Fund and several other climbing advocacy groups have spoken up about the proposals. Below is a statement from Access Fund.
Policies would classify standard climbing safety tools as prohibited “installations”
The National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) recently released draft recreation management directives that would overturn decades of precedent. The directives classify fixed anchors—the bolts, pitons, and slings that technical climbers have used to safely ascend and descend technical faces since well before Congress passed the Wilderness Act—as prohibited “installations” in Wilderness areas. If approved, the directives would apply to new and existing anchors. The public has 60 days to comment on the proposals.
“Implementing these policies could jeopardize the safety of climbers around the country by deeming standard climbing practices in Wilderness as fundamentally prohibited until granted specific exceptions at each of the thousands of Wilderness crags that climbers love,” says Access Fund Interim Executive Director Erik Murdock. “Despite this national-level proposal, we are grateful for the unwavering support of local land managers, Congress, and the outdoor industry. Access Fund looks forward to working with the administration to correct this mistake, and will continue to stand up for climbers, support public lands, and highlight the many contributions the climbing community has made to conservation and Wilderness protections.”
The NPS and USFS proposals come at the same time that legislation to protect the legal and conditional use, placement, and maintenance of bolts and other fixed anchors is making its way through Congress. The bipartisan Protecting America’s Rock Climbing Act and America’s Outdoor Recreation Act moved through their respective committees with unanimous support earlier this summer. More than 40 businesses, advocacy organizations, and local climbing organizations from around the country also support the legislation. If this legislation passes, it would direct NPS and USFS to write new national climbing management guidance that protects—not limits—sustainable access to Wilderness climbing.
“Protecting America’s last pockets of Wilderness will require a new generation of advocates,” says former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (Colo.) “Sustainable climbing access to America’s Wilderness areas will help ensure that climbers—long-standing and effective Wilderness champions—are part of the pro-Wilderness coalition.”
Wilderness plays an important role in American climbing—past and present. This includes NPS areas El Capitan in Yosemite, The Diamond on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Joshua Tree’s Wonderland of Rocks as well as USFS areas like the Wind Rivers, Cascade Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and North Carolina’s Linville Gorge.
“While simply gazing upon Wilderness areas is a powerful experience, they leave their most lasting impact on those of us who immerse ourselves in them,” says Lynn Hill, a professional rock climber and the first person to free climb The Nose on El Capitan. “I want future generations to have that same opportunity, which is why I’m so dismayed to see federal leaders propose policies that could erase historic climbs in places like Yosemite National Park.”
Outdoor Recreation has grown into a $1.1 trillion industry that supports 5 million jobs, larger than many traditional sectors of the economy. Climbing is responsible for $10.2 billion in economic impact around the nation. Businesses and advocates alike are worried about what this could mean for American public lands and the rural communities that rely on them to keep their economies strong. At risk are many of the small businesses, such as guiding companies and local outfitters, whose livelihoods are directly tied to safe and dependable access to America’s historic climbing routes.
“Outdoor Recreation Roundtable appreciates the hard work of the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to help preserve America’s long history of climbing and for taking public comment on this new climbing guidance. However, the reality is local recreation staff are already at capacity so it is hard to see how adding additional responsibilities and administrative hurdles would work on the ground while ensuring local guides and outfitters, nonprofits, and land managers can continue to secure the safety and enjoyment of climbers,” says Outdoor Recreation Roundtable President Jessica (Wahl) Turner. “This announcement highlights the need for Congress to pass a comprehensive recreation package so we can all be working in the same direction for the betterment of our shared natural resources, establishment of culturally appropriate activities and protections, and guaranteeing the future of recreation on our public lands and waters.”
America’s 8 million climbers are a powerful climbing advocacy movement. In this critical moment, Access Fund is committed to providing climbers with the tools to be effective advocates for the lands and sport they love. Every climber has the power to influence the future of climbing and the greater conservation movement. Now is the moment to use your voice.
Reactions from the American Climbing & Outdoor Recreation Community
“Climbing has been an integral part of experiencing Wilderness for generations and climbers are some of the most ardent promoters of maintaining Wilderness character. The appropriate use of fixed anchors facilitates safe climbing experiences. We look forward to partnering with the climbing community to ensure their voices are heard during this process, as well as working with all of the agencies involved.”
American Alpine Club Executive Director Ben Gabriel
“The American Mountain Guides Association is concerned about the draft policies released by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service that would impose unnecessary restrictions on fixed climbing anchors in America’s Wilderness areas. Climbing guides rely upon fixed climbing anchors to provide safety-oriented, high-quality climbing experiences for the public at climbing destinations around the country, such as North Cascades National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Wind River Range in Wyoming, and Sierra Nevada Range in California. The draft policies would create a significant administrative burden that would limit the ability of guides to provide safe outdoor experiences for the public at a time when more and more Americans are seeking to experience the enjoyment, challenge, and connection to the natural world that is unique to rock climbing in Wilderness areas.
American Mountain Guides Association Executive Director Matt Wade
“Protecting outdoor recreation activities like climbing is essential to keeping America’s outdoors open, sustainable, and accessible for all. Unfortunately, this proposed guidance is a big step in the wrong direction to ensuring access to climbing on public lands. We intend to work with Congress to pass legislation to protect climbing access and safeguard many local outdoor businesses that rely on climbing as a part of how they do business.”
Outdoor Industry Association President Kent Ebersole
“Sweeping landscapes like El Capitan and The Diamond inspire countless climbers—indoors and outside. As America’s best competition climbers prepare to represent our country in the Paris Olympics, we encourage policymakers in Washington, D.C. to support these athletes and the places they recreate and recharge, not close the door to sustainable climbing experiences.”
USA Climbing CEO Marc Norman
“The judicious use of fixed anchors is a critical tool for teaching climbing and canyoning skills. Learning how to interact with the natural environment in a safe and sustainable manner lays the foundation for a lifetime of outdoor stewardship, advocacy, and adventure. It’s disappointing that these proposed policies not only jeopardize safe outdoor education and recreation but weaken the conservation movement to protect public lands.”
The Mountaineers Executive Director Tom Vogl
“Rock climbing is important to our state; not only because of the flourishing homegrown climbing industry, but also because of a century of inspirational climbing achievements on Colorado public lands and by Coloradans around the world. We should be doing everything we can right now to grow the coalition of champions for public lands and to support our land management agencies in responding to climate change and taking care of the places entrusted to our care. A new prohibition on fixed anchors in Wilderness would jeopardize the safety of climbers, harm our recreation economy in Colorado, establish unnecessary bureaucracy, and restrict access to some of the wildest places in America.”
Conor Hall, Director of the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry (Colorado)
“The outdoor community has been a force for conservation in the last 50 years, and rock climbers have been longstanding and dedicated advocates for protecting public lands, especially Wilderness. We are grateful for the opportunity to comment and will leverage our perspective as a coalition of the human-powered outdoor community to improve the guidance on climbing from the agencies.”
Outdoor Alliance CEO Adam Cramer
“It is mission critical for me to have safe and reliable fixed anchors as I guide my clients through complex terrain, perform search and rescue, and help veterans experience the places in the wilderness that I have come to love. As a business owner, conservationist, and veteran’s advocate, I’m concerned about the impacts of this proposal, which would complicate the placement and maintenance of an essential safety tool with a new layer of bureaucracy and red tape concerns.”
President of Veteran’s Outdoor Advocacy Group and IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide Josh Jespersen