Hoping to end a 10-year stalemate over whether permanent climbing anchors should be allowed in wilderness areas, the Forest Service assembled a committee of rock climbers, wilderness advocates, government officials and recreation-industry representatives to advise it on a rule (HCN, 8/17/98: Forest Service pulls anchor ban out of thin air). Thus far, the committee has met four times. All agree that anchors - safety devices drilled into rock - are not a big problem, but some say they challenge the principle that wilderness rests on.
"That climbers are given the opportunity to modify the environment is inconsistent in wilderness areas," says Idaho conservationist and committee member Steve Wolper. "Climbers need to be treated the same as any other user group."
George Nickas of Wilderness Watch, another committee member, agrees, pointing to a clause in section 4C of the Wilderness Act prohibiting "permanent structures and installations." But Sam Davidson of the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group based in Boulder, Colo., says the Wilderness Act didn't intend to ban anything as small as climbing anchors, which are only a few inches wide. In fact, he says, some wilderness areas, such as the Menagerie Wilderness in Oregon, were designated specifically for their climbing opportunities. In any case, Davidson adds, climbers don't get better treatment than backpackers and ranchers with grazing rights. "Every use leaves at least some trace," he says. Though Davidson is "cautiously optimistic," other committee members, including the Forest Service, say the process remains a stalemate. Forest Service staffer Garry Oye says that though good information has emerged from the meetings, if an agreement doesn't come soon, the agency will make its own rule.