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ACTION ALERT: Climber Comments Needed to NPS Wilderness Fixed Anchor Proposal

In January the National Park Service (NPS) released an updated draft of its wilderness management policies which cover a wide range of topics including provisions specific to climbing fixed anchors. Iconic climbing areas in the U.S.—including Yosemite, Zion, Black Canyon, and Rocky Mountain national parks—will be governed by this new policy. See the draft policy set forth in Section 7.2 of Directors Order 41 (DO #41). While DO #41 isn’t perfect, the approach is generally one that climbers, conservation organizations, and federal land managers have agreed upon for more than a decade. The Access Fund believes that climbers should support NPS management guidance that focuses on solutions, ends bolting controversies, and improves the management of NPS wilderness.

However, climbers should advocate for several clarifications and improvements to DO #41. Most importantly, we believe individual parks are best suited to determine whether prior authorization is to be required for new fixed anchor placements and we oppose a de facto ban on new fixed anchors pending completion of individual climbing management plans. While there are many in the climbing community who would prefer that the NPS simply allow climbers to self-regulate, this isn’t a viable policy for the NPS to adopt system-wide. Without some standard guidance, more regulation (including outright bans) are a real possibility. The Access Fund has worked with our partners at the American Alpine Club, American Mountain Guides Association, and the outdoor industry to outline position statement and recommended improvements to this new policy. We have also reviewed the results of over 1000 competed surveys from the climbing community and have incorporated many of these points into our position statement Thanks to all of you who took the time to complete the survey!

Please take a few minutes and write the National Park Service by March 10. You may find these bullet points helpful when drafting your own comments.



Background
While DO #41 isn’t perfect, the approach is generally one that climbers, conservation organizations, and federal land managers have agreed upon for more than a decade. For the most part (with some significant exceptions) climbers have been largely unregulated when it comes to placing bolts in designated Wilderness areas. Whether, when, and where to place bolts has been up to the individual climbers, something that the Access Fund has long supported.

While there are many in the climbing community who would prefer that the NPS simply allow climbers to self-regulate, this isn’t a viable policy for the NPS to adopt system-wide. Some climbers are loath to endorse any sort of government regulation of climbing activities. However, some federal land managers and citizens have taken the opposite position that all fixed anchors should be banned in Wilderness. It is important to view this proposed policy in the context of the last 20+ years of advocacy and uncertainty surrounding technical climbing in federal Wilderness areas. In the mid 1990's, the future of fixed anchors in federal Wilderness was uncertain—an outright ban seemed imminent on US Forest Service managed Wilderness. Some user groups, notably mountain bikers, have been categorically banned from Wilderness areas. In light of this, the NPS's acknowledgement that "climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness" and that the “occasional placement of a fixed anchor” is not incompatible with Wilderness is significant.

The Access Fund believes that some level of fixed anchor use must be allowed wherever climbing is allowed, and that the appropriate level of use should be established on an area-by-area basis. The government has authority under the Wilderness Act to permit fixed anchors in Wilderness, and this use should be permitted as climbing is one of the unique recreation opportunities Wilderness is intended to provide. The continued use of fixed anchors, if properly managed, will not degrade Wilderness resources and values. The use of motorized equipment, including power drills, is prohibited in Wilderness.

Essentially, this new draft management policy acknowledges the legitimacy of climbing fixed anchors but requires a process—established through climbing management plans adopted at each park—for the prior authorization of new fixed anchors within NPS Wilderness areas. The Access Fund believes that while prior authorization may be appropriate in some NPS Wilderness areas, individual parks are best suited to determine whether prior authorization is to be required for new fixed anchor placements. This will allow parks to address their own unique management challenges on their own schedule, allocate resources to the most pressing Wilderness management needs, and will eliminate the possibility of a de facto ban on new fixed anchors in parks where such a prohibition may be unnecessary. Although the proposed process has uncertainties and may place new restrictions on the placement of fixed anchors, the Access Fund believes DO #41, with our recommended changes, will go a long way to stop the cycle of inconsistent, arbitrary, and repeated bans on fixed anchors we’ve seen in individual parks over the last 25 years.

Date: 2/22/2011