Climbers Speak Up in Face of Uncertain Future for Eastern Utah

With several land management alternatives on the table in eastern Utah, the future of climbing in the region is uncertain. Two weeks ago, Access Fund issued a call to the climbing community to write the President and advocate for conservation and recreation in eastern Utah. There’s a lot at stake, including Indian Creek, Castle Valley, Fisher Towers, San Rafael Swell, Valley of the Gods, Texas and Arch Canyons, Lockhart Basin, Comb Ridge, and countless remote climbing objectives both known and yet to be discovered.

Right now, lawmakers are considering several public land management options that could impact climbing. Between the Master Leasing Plan, Public Lands Initiative, and Bears Ears Monument Proposal, there are possible scenarios where climbing is restricted or negatively impacted by resource extraction activities. Access Fund believes that southeast Utah needs some form of legitimate protection for the fragile desert environment, high-quality recreation resources, and irreplaceable cultural sites. And we need to ensure that climbing is protected and recognized as an appropriate activity, regardless of which land management alternative is ultimately chosen.

Here’s what we know: the President and Congress are thinking about eastern Utah right now. Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz are working to revise their controversial Public Lands Initiative draft (we have been told to expect a revision this month) and Secretary of the Interior Jewell mentioned her desire to designate more national monuments that represent the diversity of America’s population during her recent speech on the future of conservation. The Secretary also mentioned that she is planning a trip to Utah—a sign that a national monument may be in the cards. We know that the President does not want to designate controversial national monuments in the final days of his administration. Instead, he wants to own them. With less than 300 days before President Obama leaves office, he will have to make a decision on eastern Utah soon.

We are pleased to report that climbers stepped up and answered our call to action, generating 1,135 well-crafted letters to the President that stress the need to protect these amazing landscapes and the unique climbing opportunities they offer. With help from our partners at the American Alpine Club, we analyzed these letters and generated a report that we took to Capitol Hill to report on what is important to the climbing community. We discussed the report, in person, with Utah Senators and Congressmen, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, and the White House.

Nobody knows how this political maneuvering will unfold. However, it was extremely useful for lawmakers to hear our community's testimony regarding the value of climbing in southeast Utah, so that they fully understand what is at stake.

We thank the climbing community for speaking up for the protection of eastern Utah’s wild landscapes. Lawmakers are still considering their options, and we are working hard to keep climbers’ voices in the conversation.

Our Voices were Heard

Not surprisingly, climbers from across the country answered the call to action. In fact, climbers from 48 states wrote the President. Colorado, California, and Utah sent in the most letters (see map below). We told lawmakers how often climbers visit eastern Utah climbing areas – 33% of the Utah responses indicate weekly climbing trips and 74% of the rest of the country’s responses indicate that climbers travel to Utah at least once a year! Our high frequency of visitation establishes the climbing community as important stakeholders, and we spend money. If our climbing experience is diminished or restricted, we would be forced to climb elsewhere.

We illustrated that climbers are important stakeholders and that our values count. The letters to the President clearly indicated that wild lands are most important to our community. We value vast landscapes, unadulterated viewsheds, clean air, solitude, and cultural heritage. We want to protect southeast Utah for future generations because we know firsthand how valuable the area is to personal growth. Our community spoke from the heart and lawmakers clearly understood our message.

Stay tuned to Access Fund e-news for updates.

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