There’s a disturbing trend emerging from the BLM offices in the Northwestern part of this country: they seem to be somewhat opposed to rock climbing on public lands. By now, many people are familiar with situation at Castle Rocks, outside City of Rocks, in Idaho. The BLM implemented an unwarranted blanket climbing closure across a large swath of public land adjacent to the State Park, due to the presence of historic cultural resources. Now, I’m all for preserving resources, but there is plenty of precedent out there for managing these issues in a manner that allows multiple user groups to exist. And in this particular instance, hikers, hunters and grazing cows were still allowed to use the area, but not climbers. I guess cows are better at preserving resources than climbers.
This appeared to be an isolated incident, until last August, when the same BLM office announced its intention to close an area containing 600 climbs at Massacre Rocks, a popular basalt sport climbing destination, due to fears of cultural resources being negatively impacted. Again, there was little talk of wanting to work with climbers, instead they seemed to be set on implementing whatever they wanted. Thankfully, climbers made their voices heard and the BLM has reconsidered its position, and is now working on separate environmental assessments for both areas.
So it seemed things were at least headed in the right direction, and then at the begining of February, we hear that Trout Creek, the premier crack climbing crag in the Northwest, was suddenly closed because of Golden Eagles. This decision was made “without any advance notice, without any public comment process, and without any environmental analysis” according to the local website Crag.org. Thankfully, climbers again showed up in force to let them know this wasn’t OK, and the BLM is seeking to go about the process through the proper channels, which was nice of them, considering we’re the ones paying their salaries.
But in all seriousness, these incidents bring to light several problems with the way our public lands are being managed. For one, in many places rock climbers are still not seen as a legitimate user group. ATV’s, hunters and hikers, sure, but not rock climbers, despite the increasing popularity of the sport. Second, there is no cooperation between agencies in different parts of the county, and we’ve even seen differences in regional offices in the same state.
Bird closures are a fact of life for climbers, and we’ve learned to respect them as part of our interaction with the natural world. In some places, more progressive land managers have realized an entire cliff need not be closed because of one nest. In fact, the Fortress, here in Western Colorado, is a striking example of climbers and land managers working together, with the end result being a compromise that everyone can live with. Certain parts of the cliff are closed, but it’s very specific, and for the most part you can still enjoy the area during the nesting season.
All of these problems highlight the need for climbers to be actively engaged in their local communities. It’s easy when the email comes out asking for you to leave a comment on a new management plan to think that someone else will do it, or to put it off until later, and then it never happens. But the fact is we have to show how strong our community is, now, or we could lose access for years to come. It’s much easier to prevent these things from happening, rather than trying to deal with getting areas reopened…
And while I have no official affiliation with the group, I will say that being a member of the Access Fund is as important as it’s ever been. It’s only $35/year, which really isn’t much, even for cheap dirtbags like you, and when you find that a feisty raptor has moved in on your local crag, you’ll be glad you have someone to call who can help you sort out the inevitable issues with the local land managers.