Access Fund continues fight to allow climbing at Cave Rock

After a federal judge upheld the U.S. Forest Service's ban on climbing at Cave Rock, a multi-use recreational area in Nevada, the Access Fund board of directors voted to appeal the ruling. The Access Fund said it believes the climbing ban violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.
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After a federal judge upheld the U.S. Forest Service's ban on climbing at Cave Rock, a multi-use recreational area in Nevada, the Access Fund board of directors voted to appeal the ruling. The Access Fund said it believes the climbing ban violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Originally, the Access Fund had filed the suit in Nevada Federal District Court on Dec. 15, 2003, requesting the court overturn a USFS decision to ban climbing at Cave Rock. Climbing is the only activity being prohibited while other "compatible" recreational activities such as hiking, fishing and picnicking are allowed because they do not conflict with the "feeling and association" of Cave Rock, according to a USFS report. More than a year later, on Jan. 28, 2005, a federal judge in Reno, Nev., ruled against the Access Fund's lawsuit.

The Access Fund said the USFS's Final Environmental Impact Statement on Cave Rock has contradictory statements about climbing's impact on the rock. On one hand, the report said that Cave Rock "is being damaged by certain uses, including rock climbing." However, the same report added that the physical effect of climbing on Cave Rock is insignificant. The Access Fund said in a statement that "this contradiction reveals that the physical impact of climbing is not the primary issue justifying the closure. Rather, as stated on page 3-19 of the (impact statement), it is the mere 'presence of rock climbers and their permanently implanted equipment . . . (that) diminishes the setting, feel and association' of Cave Rock."

Robb Shurr, the Access Fund's director of marketing and business development, said Cave Rock has special cultural significance with the Washoe Native Americans, who are not involved on either side of this issue. In the past, the Access Fund has been able to partner with land managers in other areas to find ways to balance the interests of other recreational and cultural user groups.

"The Access Fund has worked really hard in other areas -- the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and Devil's Tower in Wyoming specifically -- to come up with a balanced approach to climbing with respect to respecting the cultural significance of the area," he said.

Following the January federal ruling on the Access Fund lawsuit, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson signed an order on Feb. 16 to begin implementation of the climbing ban by posting signs to inform visitors of the prohibition, and intends to remove the safety protection bolts found at Cave Rock. The Access Fund voted on March 15 to appeal the district court's ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The legal precedent that is being set for areas where climbing is already permitted is basically the U.S. Forest Service or recreation planner can come in and decide to re-do and segment climbers out of it," Shurr said. "It's a scary precedent that could be set."

Shurr said the industry can be proactive with the issue by getting the word out about it and supporting the Access Fund and other groups like it. He added that other organizations like the Access Fund -- be it for hiking, boating, etc. -- should be concerned by the ban. Arbitrary closures and development are becoming more prevalent concerns for recreation groups.

"Formerly, the debate on environmental issues was conservation versus preservation," Shurr said. "Now it seems like that story line is changing to conservation versus development, and can we even think to preserve anything anymore. It's shifted pretty dramatically. Development is absolutely huge and it can affect everybody. Anyone who hikes, anyone who uses the outdoors in so many different capacities, like whitewater boaters, are subject to all this too."

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