05/21/2020

Remaining Vigilant in the Fight for Public Lands

Even as the world is consumed by news of COVOD-19, we must remain vigilant in our work to protect public lands. They are more valuable and important than ever. 

Photo courtesy of Manoah Ainuu. © Angelo Roman

Here’s what you need to know in the realm of public lands policy this month:

  • Administration pushes for NEPA rule changes to fast-track industrial development
    The current administration is pushing hard to open public lands to more industrial development. The President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is attempting to revise the implementation rules for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that is invoked when changes to the environment are proposed on federal lands, in order to fast-track industrial development. These proposed rule changes would significantly reduce the public’s ability to have a voice on public land projects. They would also disregard any consideration of future effects (like climate change) that energy development, road construction, and other industrial projects might cause. These policy changes would profoundly impact climbing, because they would limit Access Fund’s ability to advocate for the protection of climbing areas from development of all kinds. The current administration is eager to change these regulations quickly, because any regulations that go into effect near the end of a presidential term can be rolled back through the Congressional Review Act. We are working with our partners at Outdoor Alliance to push back against these proposed changes.
  • Massive oil and gas lease sale threatens Moab’s recreation and economy
    On the heels of the notorious attempt to lease the world-famous Slickrock mountain bike trails for oil and gas development, the administration is now considering leases for more than 100,000 acres in the Moab region. Dozens of high-quality climbing and mountain biking areas are threatened, as well as areas important to river runners, hikers, campers, and motorized recreation. The administration’s aggressive energy dominance policies, combined with the current low price of oil, mean just one interested bidder in the Bureau of Land Management’s September auction could lay claim to more than 100,000 acres of recreation-rich lands around Moab, keeping them tied up in oil and gas leases for decades. If these parcels are developed, several highly popular climbing areas around Moab will face access challenges, increased industrial traffic and development, and visual impacts from drilling operations. Stay tuned for an upcoming action alert.
  • Trump urges national parks to reopen after COVID-19 closures
    Soon after it was clear that COVID-19 was a serious threat to the American public, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that entrance to national parks would be free in order to encourage Americans to visit national parks. That decision received significant blowback from gateway communities concerned that the influx of tourists would spread the virus and overwhelm local health-care systems. Local governments successfully petitioned the Department of the Interior to shut down individual national park units. President Trump said on April 22 that his administration would reopen national parks as states begin to relax restrictions that were implemented to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. The National Park Service is beginning to open some national parks this week, according to a three-phase opening plan. We encourage all climbers to carefully consider health and safety before visiting national parks, or any climbing area, during this time. Learn more about our suggested guidelines for climbing during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Access Fund pushes back on classification of rock climbing as only example of high-risk activity
    The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) used “rock climbing” to illustrate a risky activity that should be avoided in order to prevent rescues during the coronavirus pandemic. Access Fund supports local closures designed to protect gateway communities, USFS employees, and forest visitors. However, we do not support messaging that specifically calls out rock climbing for being more likely to result in rescue. In fact, rock climbing causes far fewer rescues than many other activities, such as hiking, and it is unfair to stigmatize climbing. This USFS messaging could have implications to future climbing access, even after the pandemic is over. We just had a productive meeting with the USFS Washington, D.C., office on this issue, which resulted in them contacting all the regional foresters, as well as promising that the problematic message regarding rock climbing would not continue. We thank the USFS for addressing our concerns and responding quickly.
Credit Photo Courtesy of:
© Elodie Saracco

Top 5 Threats to Public Lands

Nearly 60% of our climbing areas are located on federally managed public lands, and a growing movement of law and policy makers at the federal and state levels have launched a systematic attack on these lands.
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