Groups Push to Fix Flaws in National Park Wilderness Directive

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Groups Push to Fix Flaws in National Park Wilderness Directive

Fixed Mountain Climbing Anchors, Widened Road Corridors among Problems Cited


Washington, DC — A new directive supposedly designed to protect national park wilderness does just the opposite in some very important respects, according to a letter sent today to the Director of the National Park Service (NPS) by Wilderness Watch, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Olympic Park Associates and Friends of the Clearwater. The groups are asking NPS Director Jon Jarvis to rescind his month-old order in order to cure flaws that will otherwise lead to controversy and litigation.

NPS Director’s Order #41: Wilderness Stewardship was signed on May 13, 2013. It governs how the agency handles an array of issues relating to implementation of the Wilderness Act on park lands. The groups are pointing to the following areas where the Directive creates more problems than it solves:

  • Illegal authorization of placing fixed climbing anchors in wilderness. The Directive adds the hopelessly vague caveat that such installations should only be “occasional”;
  • Carving road corridors from wilderness for unpaved roads that are more than three times current guidance –100 feet, rather than 30. This wilderness exclusion, for which no justification was offered, fragments wilderness by facilitating more construction along unpaved roads; and
  • Confusing direction on perseveration of cabins, shelters and other “cultural resources” as well as inapt language regarding Native American rights of access which will likely spark needless disputes.

“The Wilderness Act prohibits permanent fixed climbing anchors in Wilderness,” said Kevin Proescholdt of Wilderness Watch. “Rather than degrade wilderness rock faces, some wilderness cliffs should remain unclimbable and untrammeled.”

Use of fixed anchors in wilderness is a subject of intense and long-standing controversy. Some elements of the climbing community have pushed for looser restrictions on pounding fixed anchors into rocks where a free climb would not be possible. The Directors’ Order tries to finesse the issue by providing that approvals for fixed anchors should be “occasional” or “rare” – a standard so vague that it requires case-by-case determinations with no standards. This, in turn, means than anchor decisions will vary from park to park and even in the same park over time as new superintendents revisit earlier determinations. It also invites climbing groups that want to embed anchors to lobby park managers to grant exceptions.

“What part of the word ‘untrammeled’ is hard to understand? Untrammeled does not mean occasionally trammeled or a little bit trammeled,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, referring to a key Wilderness Act standard. “The purpose of a national rule is to lend precision, not sow confusion and spawn needless lawsuits.”


Read the groups’ letter

View the NPS Directors’ Order #41 (link no longer active)

See lackluster national park wilderness record

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