by Van P. Keele, Hamilton
Have you read the recent “Sky is Falling” story-letter by some rock climbers? I have to be honest. I think they should enter concussion protocol, having been peppered by falling rocks once too often. Ain’t easy being as dense as the rock you’re climbing.
While tongue-in-cheek, I’m serious folks. How hard is it for them to understand that people do not oppose rock climbing on our public lands? Heck, climb until your forearms are wads of cramped muscle. It’s a fantastic sport! I’m glad I got to do it a couple dozen times. But man, what the public does not like—or think fair—is climbers installing permanent metal bolts, chains, and other fixed hardware willy nilly whenever and wherever they please. Is that too hard to comprehend? Why should climbers get to drill, construct, and install all sorts of things on our public lands—WITHOUT PERMISSION—while other recreationists have to get permits or authorization, plus undergo environmental review and public comment? Remember: Our lands, not Joe Schmo to do as he pleases!
Get this: Mt bikers and off-roaders don’t get to build trails and construct ramps and what not. Fishermen can’t just build docks to reach good fishin’ holes. Hikers can’t install ladders to breach a cliff to access a hanging valley. Firewood cutters and mushroom pickers need permits. Hunters need licenses. Geez, a geologist has to get a permit to drill a tiny test hole in rock on our Bitterroot National Forest.
There are good reasons why there are permits and review processes. It’s to ensure sustainable activities. To avoid abuse. To be fair to all users. To protect our many natural and cultural resources. To provide opportunities for all sorts of forest visitors.
The climbing opportunities on our forest are endless. There’s probably 100-200 sport or mixed climbing routes on our forest that have bolts. There’s hundreds of other climbing routes or potential ones that are free of fixed hardware. We are very lucky. But there’s been an exponential increase in those bolted routes over the last 10-15 years with many impacts.
What so many of us think is fair, smart for resource protection, and will help guarantee long term sustainable climbing is to have a permit-type system when (and only when) they want to install bolts on our lands. This would allow an on-site look by Forest Service specialists to determine if there’s significant concerns like raptor nests, Native American cultural resources, threatened plants or animals, or special management area issues like Wilderness, Wilderness Study Area, or Recommended Wilderness. The authorization process need not be onerous. Dozens of locations across the country have a similar process; some for decades. They work.
A permit-type system for bolted climbing routes-only is not over-regulating and will not lead to a wave of regulations for other forest users. These are scare tactics used by a few guys who want you to think they know what’s best for everyone and our public lands. Don’t buy it.
It comes down to this: There’s infinite climbing opportunities on our forest. No one I know is against climbing. But if you want to drill and install metal hardware on our public lands then you should have to get a permit to do so. It’s only fair. And it’ll protect our resources. Which includes climbing!