Joined: 12 Sep 2019
Posts: 287 | TRs | Pics
I didn't think to check earlier if there was a thread about this (though anyone getting spammed by the Access Fund surely is already aware), but the comment period ends today, so if you have thoughts about this then you'd best git to it.
The Access Fund's headline ("bolt prohibition!!") is a bit hyperbolic, but also not completely out of line. Basically, after decades of allowing climbers to manage bolts in kind of a private-public collaboration, the NPS and USFS have suddenly come out with guidance about bolting restrictions and the need for permits on federal lands. While these documents take pains to state that climbing is a historically important form of outdoor recreation and bolts shouldn't be de-facto banned, it seems likely that would be the outcome in at least some areas.
Bolts are prima facie determined to be prohibited "installations" as defined under the Wilderness Act. Land managers are instructed to create a climbing management plan (only a small minority of areas currently have one of these) as "time and funding" allows, and then do a Minimum Requirements Analysis (MRA) to determine if bolts are supported. This has to be done for both existing routes (yes, even, like, the Nose on El Capitan will have to justify its bolts) and for new routes, as well as for any bolt replacements for safety. The NPS then at least is proposing a permit system to authorize bolt installation, including, paradoxically, the usage of... ice screws?
Anyway, the Access Fund has a pretty comprehensive FAQ about this that explains what's being proposed. The real concerns are that this does not authorize any new funding to make these processes happen, there is no requirement that CMPs and MRAs actually happen, given time and funding limitations, and implementation will basically be left up to individual land managers, creating a patchwork system that could be different everywhere.
While there are obviously usage concerns in general as climbing becomes more popular, and we don't want dumb people installing junk bolts (note that it does not appear any of these proposals require stainless hardware or provide any funding for better quality bolts, leaving it still up to the user to decide whether to cheap out), these proposals seem unreasonable, overly bureaucratic, and unfunded, among other things.
The best case scenario, assuming land managers don't "ban" bolts through failure to follow through or approve any permits (the USFS proposal seems to suggest that non-wilderness climbing should be restricted to "existing opportunities" unless they do a requirements analysis, even though the "installations" definition in the Wilderness Act obviously doesn't apply to non-wilderness), is that at the very least bolt replacement gets seriously slowed down and hard to do, more old rusty junk is left in the rock, safety goes down, etc. People might also get the privilege of paying a tithe to Booz for their bolt applications.
There appears to be legislation making its way through Congress (the EXPLORE Act) that would require a more over-arching climbing management plan to be created and it's bizarre the NPS and USFS decided to come out with their own memoranda before that was done.
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