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Access Fund Action Alert: Bitterroot National Forest Bans New Bolts and First Ascents

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Climbing in Bitterroot National Forest, the ancestral lands of Ktunaxa amakis,Courtesy © Damien Powledge

In an unprecedented move, Bitterroot National Forest in Montana banned new bolts and route development earlier this month, without any public process or opportunity to comment. Access Fund is asking for the climbing community’s help to shut down this dangerous national precedent.

An estimated 30 percent of America’s climbing is on U.S. Forest Service land, and this unsubstantiated ban sets a dangerous precedent for climbing in national forests all across the country—areas like Rumney, Linville Gorge, Jackson Falls, Cochise Stronghold, Maple Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Wild Iris, Needles (California), Enchanted Tower, Liberty Bell, Seneca Rocks, and so many others.

Take Action Now
Even if you do not live in Montana, we need your help to shut down this dangerous precedent. Take five minutes to use Access Fund’s easy letter-writing tool and tell Bitterroot National Forest to work with climbers and other stakeholders in good faith, instead of implementing an unjustified ban on new routes. Take action here.

The ban was issued as an official order by Forest Supervisor Matt Anderson, and it declares all new route development (first ascents) after the date of the order illegal. The order does not include any allowances for emergencies, fixed anchors that protect natural resources, bolt replacement, hand-drilled fixed anchors on traditional first ascents in Wilderness, or slings for descent. Of further concern, the Supervisor’s Order “reminds” climbers that new fixed anchors are banned—incorrectly implying that fixed anchors were illegal in the past. This implication is at odds with well-established U.S. Forest Service plans across the country, which acknowledge fixed anchors as critical tools for climbing.

“We haven’t seen a U.S. Forest Service decision as egregious and far-reaching as this in 25 years,” says Access Fund Policy Director Erik Murdock. “This Supervisor’s Order overrides a successful, existing agreement between the climbing community and the forest, ignores any public process, and sets a dangerous precedent for all national forests.”

Access Fund is working with Western Montana Climbers Coalition (WMTCC) to push back on this unsubstantiated ban and remind Bitterroot National Forest that fixed anchors are legal in national forests. Perhaps more importantly, we’ll be reminding the supervisor that a significant management decision like this, on our public lands, deserves public process and science-based decision-making.

Over the past 10 years, a few local residents have protested a climbing area in Bitterroot National Forest, called the Tick Farm, which contains around 50 bolted and traditional routes. The area is less than a mile from the trailhead, and it has become popular with local climbers. The previous forest supervisor engaged WMTCC and Access Fund to evaluate resource conditions at the Tick Farm and provide recommendations. After careful consideration, she restricted new route development at the Tick Farm, with support of the local climbing community. The climbing community observed the new route ban at the Tick Farm with 100-percent compliance.

“We’re disappointed and surprised by the new Supervisor’s Order,” says WMTCC board member, Damian Mast. “The western Montana climbing community has enjoyed a great relationship with Bitterroot National Forest over the last decade. The previous Supervisor’s restrictions on new routes at the Tick Farm were based on sound reasons, implemented only after BNF managers conducted several site visits and engaged in collaborative dialogue with the Access Fund and Western Montana Climbers Coalition. Comparatively, the recent ban is confusing and unsubstantiated. We are dismayed that the Supervisor’s Order was not based on the same careful and thoughtful process.”

The new Supervisor’s Order states that the forest intends to develop a climbing management plan, but it does not elaborate on the timing of the planning process or whether and when the new route ban will be lifted. Bitterroot National Forest has moved the goal posts for its forest-plan revision several times, and it’s now slated for 2022 or 2023. The climbing management plan would presumably be developed as we wait for Bitterroot National Forest to begin the process to revise the overarching, existing 30-year-old plan.

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