Re-Open Williamson Rock

Williamson Rock was Southern California’s premier summer sport climbing destination until it was closed in 2005 to protect the endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog (MYLF).

March 2017 Update

The USFS is currently studying four alternatives to reopening rock climbing access at Williamson Rock. The preferred alternative proposes seasonal raptor closures and a visitor-use permit system that would allow 90 permitted climbers per day to access Williamson Rock (outside of seasonal raptor closures).

The USFS expected to release its draft EIS in the fall of 2017, but has postponed the release until the middle of 2018 citing budgetary constraints. Access Fund and local climbing advocates continue to apply pressure to get the EIS finalized. Once the draft EIS is released, there will be a 45-day public comment period for climbers to review the proposed alternatives and submit feedback, followed by a final decision.

Stay tuned for an Action Alert when the comment period opens.

Overview of the Issue
The Angeles National Forest restricted access to Williamson as a result of successful lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations to protect the MYLF. Williamson Rock remains closed to climbing, but the Access Fund and local climbing advocates remain focused on pressuring the USFS to finalize an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that evaluates climbing management strategies that could allow controlled climbing access while still protecting the MYLF.

Incremental progress was made in the summer of 2014 when the US Forest Service initiated a process for evaluating alternatives for opening the climbing area. After initial project scoping, the Forest Service postponed the project citing lack of funding.

In the spring of 2017, the USFS announced that the EIS is back on track. In early April, Access Fund joined the USFS staff and a group of stakeholders—including Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Crest Trail Association, US Geological Survey, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of Williamson Rock, Latino Outdoors, and environmental consultants—on a site visit to Williamson Rock to kick off this effort. The tone of the meeting was positive and collaborative, with stakeholders discussing reasonable options to protect the endangered MYLF and nesting raptors in order to re-open Williamson Rock to climbing.

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Stay tuned for an Action Alert. The Access Fund will notify you when the 45-day comment period for the draft plan is open. At that time, we will need climbers to rally and submit feedback.
  • Please continue to respect the current closure of Williamson Rock, and be patient with the EIS process. We understand how frustrating this long closure has been for the Southern California climbing community. Representatives from the USFS have noted and applauded the climbing community’s respect of the closure, and this restraint has gone a long way in proving that climbers are responsible users that can be trusted to steward the area and help protect the MYLF.

History
There is a long and convoluted history related to the Williamson Rock climbing closure. In September 2009, the Forest Service proposed a plan to re-open Williamson Rock to climbing with restrictions meant to protect critical habitat of the MYLF. But around the same time, a fire (known as the Station Fire) burnt much of the Angeles National Forest, including habitat of the MYLF and the local Forest Service district office. Given the loss of MYLF habitat in the Station Fire, the Angeles National Forest decided that Williamson Rock could not be re-opened as proposed.

In June 2011, a court issued an injunction closing Williamson Rock until the completion of an amended MYLF Biological Survey. Shortly thereafter, the Angeles National Forest attempted to institute a 3-year administrative closure of Williamson Rock to protect MYLF habitat. Allied Climbers of San Diego (ACSD), a local climbing organization and joint member of the Access Fund, stepped up to administratively appeal the 3-year closure. Because of the judicial order to close Williamson, the Angeles National Forest withdrew the decision to close Williamson Rock for 3 years and ACSD’s appeal was dismissed as moot. The court order currently authorizes the continued climbing closure at Williamson.

Since the inception of the climbing closure, the Access Fund, Friends of Williamson Rock, Allied Climbers of San Diego, and other local climbers have been working on ways to reopen Williamson Rock to climbing while protecting MYLF habitat. These efforts have included working directly with the Angeles National Forest to devise a balanced plan, submitting numerous advocacy statements and comment letters asking for reasonable climbing access, an Access Fund grant that funded a trail consultant to plan alternate low-impact access. Our coalition of groups have also lobbied the region’s Congressional delegation to urge the US Forest Service to implement an appropriate plan for the area that includes climbing. The Access Fund prepared a joint comment letter in 2014 with ACSD on the US Forest Service’s proposed Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement that considered management alternatives for the area.

In addition to working on the Forest Service’s planning efforts, the Access Fund and our partners at the Outdoor Alliance recently participated in efforts that designated the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument which includes Williamson Rock. Access Fund advocated for the National Monument proclamation to include mention of the recreation values associated with Williamson Rock. Access Fund will be launching a key advocacy campaign in the next year that will focus on making sure the monument’s management plan allows for reasonable and appropriate climbing access at Williamson.

Questions?
For more information e-mail policy@accessfund.org.