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Don't demonize climbers

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After reading “Invasion of the Rock Jocks” (HCN, 7/7/03: Invasion of the Rock Jocks), one might conclude that rock climbing impacts the environment on the scale of coal mining or desert off-road races. The article does highlight some real issues, but the generalizations are a little too sweeping, the values and motivations of climbers are a little short-shrifted, and the slice of the climbing world the article looks at is a little too thin.

It would be folly to claim that rock climbing has no effect on public land, but to speak of climbing’s impacts in the same context as those of off-road vehicles or mining is to overreach in the extreme. Does this mean climbers should be let off the hook? Of course not. It’s simply a matter of addressing the issues fairly, and crafting appropriate solutions. The article lumps climbers’ tactics with those of industrial lobbies — a ridiculous comparison. Industry uses armies of lawyers, campaign dollars, and manipulated reports to get its way. Climbers use tools like cooperation, negotiation, and advocacy as best they can.

The article also paints as negative the demand by climbers that restrictions be based on good science. Yet environmental groups do this every day — demand good science for public land decisions — and rightly so.

The climbing community is more active than ever before to mitigate its impacts. Consider these examples of climbing restrictions supported by the Access Fund, the principal climbing advocacy group in the country:

• In Boulder Mountain Parks, the Access Fund helped craft a seasonal climbing closure for crags that raptors use for mating and nesting.

• In West Virginia’s New River Gorge, the National Park Service was about to close a long stretch of cliff to climbing, although there was no evidence of use by peregrine falcons. The Access Fund worked with the NPS to institute a voluntary seasonal closure for the area and a monitoring program to identify falcon activity.

• Devils Tower, Wyo., is considered sacred to several Northern Plains tribes. In cooperation with the tribes, climbers put a voluntary closure into effect each June.

Furthermore, the Access Fund is on record supporting wilderness initiatives, including the Colorado Citizens Wilderness Proposal, Nevada’s recently enacted Clark County bill, Washington’s Wild Sky Wilderness bill, and Utah’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. The organization promotes conservation more than ever before. That is why I serve on its board.

The point is this: Climbers as a group are largely conservation-minded, and respect the need for appropriate levels of restriction on their use of public lands. Contrary to being an “environmental menace,” climbers represent a much-needed ally in the struggle against those who value our public lands for nothing other than their commodity production.

Jeff Widen
Bayfield,Colorado

The writer is associate director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition and oversees the organization’s wilderness program.

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william mcelroy
william mcelroy
Nov 20, 2012 09:37 AM
Thank you for the evenhanded assessment. I read the Rock Jocks Invasion article as well, and felt it was a bit harsh. Still it is important for climbers who do know about environmental ethics and leave no trace/ damage practices to inform all those yuppies who are still coming in hordes fresh from the cities to outdoor climbing spots. If someone is seen disrespecting mother earth (or looks like the type who might not know about enviro ethics), they need to be talked to. Most likely with an informative dialogue rather than with fighting words and saber rattling. Although, sometimes the latter approach might come in handy.

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