08/16/2006

U.S. Forest Service in Oregon Attempts to Criminalize Fixed Anchors

Date: 8/17/2006

The Access Fund received news from Medford, OR that the US Attorneys Office contacted a local defense attorney indicating that a citation will be dismissed that charged a climber with illegal bolting (see story below).

This particular citation was dismissed because there appears to be no legal restrictions on the using anchor bolts on the Winema Forest. For the last several weeks the Access Fund and local Oregon climbing community had rallied behind this issue, urging both national and local USFS officials to drop this charge and follow management policies more consistent with national guidelines that allow the use and placement of fixed anchors on National Forest System land.

(08/16/2006)

Law enforcement officers with the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southeast Oregon have made new and unique interpretations of US Forest Service (USFS) policy and regulations in an effort to criminalize the use and placement of fixed anchors. Citations have been issued to climbers who put up routes with fixed anchors on National Forest land with no special management designation such as wilderness.

This is an ominous development for climbers and if not stopped, could lead to severe restrictions on developing new routes and new areas on federally-managed land elsewhere.

In the first case, climbers were charged under 16 USC 551 for failure to remove personal property to wit: rock climbing gear at the Sprague River Picnic Area near Bly, Oregon. The gear that was not removed consisted of bolts and top anchorssafety equipment that is intended to remain permanently in place. The climbers were also issued a written warning that they had violated 36 CFR 261.10(a): rock climbing gear placed and maintained on National Forest when such activity requires a special use permit.

In the second case, a climber was issued two citations under 36 CFR 261.10(a): building or maintaining trails without a special use permit. The climber had put up climbing routes that used fixed anchors for protection, replaced old, poorly located bolts used primarily for top-roping, and had improved a badly-eroding access trail at the Williamson Cliffs near Klamath Falls, Oregon. In these citations, the USFS law enforcement officer claimed that putting up a climbing route was the same thing as constructing a hiking trail, which requires a special issue permit. In both these cases the citations are without merit and the Access fund is supporting local Oregon climbers with their legal defense efforts.

Forest Service policy does not require that a climber obtain a special use permit to go rock climbing, whether climbing established routes or developing new ones. Nor has the USFS previously equated fixed anchors (bolts, pitons, etc.) with abandoned personal property (e.g. junker cars, hazardous materials). In both cases, the climbing occurred on USFS land that was not under a special management designation, such as Wilderness, proposed wilderness, traditional cultural property, or Research Natural Area. Climbing was not prohibited in either area at the time the climbers were cited, and both areas have long been used for climbing, particularly the Williamson Cliffs.

A trial date of August 31st has been set for one of the cited climbers. The climber has hired an attorney, and Access Fund Policy Director Jason Keith will testify as an expert witness for the defense explaining why the interpretations made by the USFS law enforcement officers are unprecedented, in opposition to established policy, and therefore unlawful.

This trial will be very important in determining whether the USFS, and likely other federal land agencies, will recognize the legitimacy of using fixed anchors when climbing on federal land.