Access Fund to File Suit in Response to Unlawful Climbing Ban at Cave Rock


November 13, 2003, Boulder, CO – In response to the recent decision by the US Forest Service (USFS) to uphold the Cave Rock climbing ban, the Access Fund announced today that it will file a lawsuit requesting the courts overturn the USFS ruling. The Access Fund is a national, nonprofit climbing advocacy organization representing the interests of more than one million climbers nationwide. Cave Rock is multi-use recreational area in Nevada on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

In August 2003, the USFS Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit released its Record of Decision (ROD) banning climbing at Cave Rock. On September 19, 2003 the Access Fund filed an administrative appeal on procedural and constitutional grounds in order to overturn the ban. On November 5th, 2003 the USFS issued its appeal decision to uphold the climbing ban.

The Access Fund has reviewed the USFS’s closure of Cave Rock and believes the decision is unconstitutional. As a result, the Access Fund has been left with no alternative other than to file a lawsuit on behalf of the climbing community. The Access Fund Board of Directors unanimously approved this action after exhausting all other administrative and negotiated options.

Climbing is the only activity to be prohibited by the USFS under its ROD. According to the forest supervisor’s decision, there will be an immediate ban on climbing while other “compatible” recreational activities such as hiking, fishing, and picnicking will be allowed to continue because they do not conflict with the “feeling and association” of Cave Rock. Furthermore, US Hwy 50 — running through Cave Rock via a dynamited tunnel — is just a few feet away from the climbing area.

The appeal decision quotes a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that says Cave Rock “is being damaged by certain uses, including rock climbing.” However, the same FEIS (a document several hundred pages in length) states, “the effect of route cleaning on the Cave Rock formation is insignificant and does not weaken the structure of the rock.” The document adds, “Geologically, the effect of drilling [bolt holes] on a formation the size and composition of Cave Rock is insignificant and does nothing to weaken the structure of the rock.” The document also notes “the effect of chalk and hand oils on Cave Rock’s geology is insignificant.” (FEIS, page 3-4) Finally, the FEIS acknowledges, “There appears to be little connection between climbers and the trash remaining around Cave Rock.... In fact, the climbing community is responsible for removing a reported 13 garbage cans full of glass and party refuse.” (FEIS, pages 3-34 & 3-39). This contradiction reveals that the physical impact of climbing is not the primary issue justifying the closure. Rather, as stated on page 3-19 of the FEIS, it is the mere “presence of rock climbers and their permanently implanted equipment . . . [that] diminishes the setting, feel and association” of Cave Rock.

“The Access Fund has a long and exemplary history of compromise on similar climbing access issues such as Devils Tower in Wyoming, and the Red River Gorge in Kentucky,” said Jason Keith, policy director for the Access Fund. “At both of these areas, land managers have found a way to balance the interests of recreational and cultural user groups.” The Access Fund will continue to educate climbers on culturally sensitive climbing issues. For example, the Cave Rock climbing guidebook asks climbers to: “Climb and behave in a respectful manner. Cave Rock is an important spiritual site to the Washoe. Either treat it with respect and reverence or leave.”

Despite the climbing community’s ongoing efforts to create a mutually agreeable solution, the Access Fund is compelled to challenge this USFS decision. Not doing so could create a legal precedent leading to future unreasonable and unnecessary closures of public lands nationwide.

 


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