USDA Forest Service and National Park Service seek public input on proposed guidance for managing climbing, protecting natural and cultural resources in wilderness areas
UPDATE Jan. 9, 2024: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) has extended the public comment period by 14 days at the request of various stakeholders. Originally scheduled to close on January 16, 2024, the longer comment period of a total of 74 days will allow interested parties more time to consider the proposal. Submit comments on the proposed guidance by January 30, 2024.
Climbing activities (including rock climbing, snow and ice climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, and caving) are popular in national forests, national parks and across public lands. Fixed climbing equipment, also referred to as fixed anchors, includes bolts or other equipment that is left permanently in place after the climb. Some fixed anchors may be necessary for safe public use of the resource. The proposed guidance affirms that climbing is an appropriate use of public lands, including in wilderness areas, and should be managed in a manner that helps protect cultural and natural resources.
The draft guidance reflects input received during NPS- and USFS-held Tribal listening and Tribal consultation sessions for Tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations and Alaskan Tribes and Organizations. Following the public comment period, the NPS and USFS will develop and publish final policy and guidance informed by public comments.
U.S. Forest Service
The proposed U.S. Forest Service guidance will clarify management and provide specific guidance for climbing on National Forest System lands, including within Congressionally designated wilderness areas. The proposed guidance includes language that highlights the need for climbing area management plans that balance objectives with site-specific needs and opportunities, including alignment with the Wilderness Act. Currently, national guidance is not in place regarding acceptable climbing practices on national forests and grasslands.
“Climbing is a popular way to enjoy the outdoors and recreate on public lands,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The proposed directive would ensure the Forest Service supports world-class climbing opportunities while also protecting natural and cultural resources for future generations.”
Like any recreational activity, best practices for climbing can help climbers avoid damage to natural and cultural resources. The proposed guidance will provide local Forest Service land managers with direction on how to guide climbers on the most appropriate places and practices to recreate responsibly and protect resources.
The proposed guidance follows the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which directs the Forest Service to develop guidance to manage climbing on national forests and grasslands.
National Park Service
This draft NPS guidance will help NPS wilderness and climbing managers make informed decisions regarding the placement and/or replacement of permanent bolts, chains, or other climbing equipment used in NPS wilderness areas. The draft guidance outlines the processes for managing existing and new climbing routes in wilderness. The analysis will help NPS determine what level of fixed anchor use best preserves the totality of wilderness character while taking account of human safety concerns.
“Like many in the climbing community, I share a lifelong love and appreciation of outdoor recreation sparked by a childhood spent exploring and enjoying the natural world,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said. “The proposed guidance will help provide a consistent process for installing new or replacing existing fixed anchors in wilderness and ensure that we are managing these important areas for the benefit of current and future generations.”
Learn more about the proposed U.S. Forest Service guidance and submit your comments online: https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public/CommentInput?project=ORMS-3524
Learn more about the proposed National Park Service guidance and submit your comments online: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?documentID=132387