NPS Releases New Bolt Policy Proposal


Access Fund Press Release:

After years of anticipation and direct advocacy by the Access Fund, the National Park Service has released an updated draft of its wilderness management policies in order to provide accountability, consistency, and continuity in its wilderness stewardship program. The update covers a wide range of topics including the long-waited-for provisions specific to climbing fixed anchors. Iconic climbing areas in the U.S.—including as Yosemite, Zion, Black Canyon, and Rocky Mountain national parks—would be governed by this new policy.

The proposed policy acknowledges that climbing is a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness and that each park with significant wilderness climbing activities must prepare a climbing management plan. However, the policy calls for climbing to be restricted or prohibited if unacceptable impacts to wilderness resources or character occur.

This proposed policy recognizes that the occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel, or protection purposes does not necessarily impair wilderness, but it requires prior authorization for the placement of new fixed anchors (replacements or removals may also require park approval). The requirements and process for authorization are to be laid out in each park’s climbing management plan.

The practical outcome of this proposed policy is that climbers would need a permit or some other authorization prior to the hand-placement of new bolts in any national park wilderness area. Most parks currently require no such prior-approval. The public will have 60 days to comment on this proposed policy revision. The Access Fund is currently analyzing the policy and working on an advocacy strategy. Stay tuned to Access Fund E-news for our position statement and an action alert for climber comments

NPS's policy proposal

7.2 Climbing

For the purpose of this Order, climbing is defined to include rock climbing, snow and ice climbing,mountaineering, canyoneering and caving, where climbing equipment, such as ropes and fixed or removable anchors, is generally used to support an ascent or descent. Climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness. However, any climbing use or related activity must be restricted or prohibited when its occurrence, continuation or expansion would result in unacceptable impacts or impairment to wilderness resources or character, or interfere significantly with the experience
of other park visitors. The criteria under which a superintendent will make closure or restriction determination are listed in 36 CFR 1.5.

If significant climbing activities occur in wilderness, a climbing management plan must be prepared or be included as part of the park's wilderness stewardship plan or another activity level plan. Plans will be developed with the aid of public involvement and collaboration and will include public review and comment.

The occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel or protecti on purposes does not necessarily impair the future enjoyment of wilderness or violate the Wilderness Act. However, climbing practices with the least adverse impact on wilderness resources and character will always be the preferred choice. "Clean climbing" techniques should be the norm in wilderness. This involves the use of temporary equipment and anchors that can be placed and removed without altering the environment (e.g. slings, cams, nuts, chocks, and stoppers). The use of motorized equipment (e.g. power drills) is prohibited (36 CFR 2.12). Practices such as gluing or chipping holds, and damaging or removing vegetation on or at the base of climbing routes are prohibited (36 CFR 2.1).

Climbers are encouraged to adopt Leave No Trace principals and practices, to include packing out human waste when on or in the vicinity of climbing routes.

Proposals for the placement of fixed anchors or fixed equipment for the purpose of facilitating future rescue operations should be evaluated through minimum requirements analysis.

Fixed anchors or fixed equipment may be appropriate, but should be rare in wilderness.

o Authorization will be required for the placement of new fixed anchors or fixed equipment.

o Authorization may be required for the replacement of existing fixed anchors or fixed

o Authorization may be required for the removal of existing fixed anchors or fixed equipment.

The requirements for authorization, and the process to be followed, will be effected through an approved climbing management plan.

Management strategies to control, and in some cases reduce, proliferation of fixed anchors in wilderness must be developed and articulated in a park climbing management plan.

The establishment of bolt-intensive face climbs, such as “sport climbs,” is considered incompatible with wilderness preservation and management due to the concentration of human activity which they support, and the types and level of impacts associated with the development of such routes.

Wilderness climbing education and impact monitoring will be important components in climbing management programs.

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