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Fixed Anchors in the Wilderness

Events Leading Up to the Negotiated Rulemaking Process


Forest Service wilderness managers have questioned the use of fixed anchors in wilderness for over a decade.

In September 1996, the Sawtooth National Forest supervisor reviewed Sawtooth policy on the use of bolts and decided no additional fixed anchors would be permitted in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Existing anchors would be maintained and replaced as needed.

The Forest Service was the first land-management agency to prohibit the use of bolts as fixed anchors. The agency estimates about 40 of its wilderness areas (10 percent nationally) offer rock climbing.

Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, installations for other than administrative purposes are prohibited in designated wilderness areas (Public Law 88-577, Sec. 4 (c)). The controversy centers on whether bolts are installations or whether they are necessary safety precautions.

This 1996 decision was appealed by the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group, and Wilderness Watch, a conservation group that focuses on the management of existing wilderness areas. The Access Fund felt the decision was too restrictive, while Wilderness Watch felt that the existing use of anchors should be discontinued based on the language of the Wilderness Act.

In 1998, Jim Lyons, Forest Service under secretary for national resources and environment, announced that the Forest Service would initiate negotiated rulemaking to clarify national policy about permanent fixed anchors for rock climbing in wilderness areas. Lyons’ decision meant that metal bolts (whether camouflaged or not) would remain legal in national forest wilderness areas (except in the Sawtooth Wilderness) for up to 1 year pending a final policy.

Key issues to be considered for negotiation as set forth in the Federal Register, Oct. 29, 1999 (DOCID:fr29oc99-24), included:

In 2000, the Secretary of Agriculture established a negotiated rulemaking committee to develop recommendations for a proposed rule regarding the use, insertion, and removal of fixed anchors placed by recreational rock climbers in congressionally designated wilderness areas administered by the Forest Service. This committee, called the Fixed Anchors in Wilderness Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee, includes 23 people representing a cross section of interests with a definable stake in the outcome of the proposed rule (Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 111, June 8, 2000).

Four meetings were held in Denver, CO: June 27 to 28, July 19 to 20, August 30 to 31, and September 19 to 20, 2000.

A draft working proposal may take 12 months to complete.

Reports and ideas from the committee that could be introduced into the draft working proposal are:

At this time (March 2001), the negotiated rulemaking process has not been completed.

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