Climbing Banned at Portion of Castle Rocks – Access Fund Set to Appeal

Date: 4/12/2010

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a climbing ban on 400 acres in the Castle Rocks Interagency Recreation Area, adjacent to Castle Rocks State Park in Idaho. This ban affects over 40 established climbs and hundreds of potential new routes.

The BLM acted on the basis that a climbing ban is needed to protect historic cultural resources inventoried by a recent field survey. The Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, who have a rich history in this area, support the ban, expressing concern that climbing could negatively impact their cultural resources on the property. However the field study found these resources in two specific areas of the property and a subsequent environmental assessment failed to state why climbing could not continue where there are no conflicts with cultural resources.The Access Fund supports legitimate resource protection strategies, but disagrees with the BLM’s decision to manage the entire area with the highest level of protection, especially the areas where the environmental assessment did not identify any resources in need of protection. The BLM will still allow hunting, hiking, and grazing to continue, and numerous alternatives exist that could also allow climbing and still protect the cultural resources.

Other BLM offices across the country effectively managing climbing in areas where significant cultural resources have been identified, including Shelf Road in Colorado; Red Rocks in Nevada; and Indian Creek, Moab/Castle Valley, and San Rafael Swell in Utah. The standard at these locations is that climbing may occur within 50 feet of a specific cultural resource.

The BLM has a long history of maintaining resource protection standards and still allowing for legitimate recreational uses like climbing. The ban that the local BLM office has imposed for its Castles property is more restrictive than any other BLM climbing area in the country, and is an even higher standard than those imposed on wilderness areas or other highly protected land designations.

The Access Fund is set to appeal the BLM decision on the grounds that 1) the BLM has not sufficiently identified the cultural resources in need of protection, 2) the BLM has not shown that climbing (sport or traditional) would inevitably cause adverse effects to those resources, and 3) that there are less restrictive alternatives available that could allow climbing and protect cultural resources.

The Access Fund will support any climbing restrictions or closures where the BLM can demonstrate that discrete cultural resources and climbing opportunities conflict or are within a 50-foot buffer zone. It also supports reasonable measures and/or compromises where climbing and the hiking approaches to climbing may be restricted or diverted around in the zones that contain a high density of cultural resources.

History of the area
The BLM property sits within a patchwork of public lands commonly known as the Castle Rocks Interagency Recreation Area, and is owned and managed by three different agencies—US Forest Service, BLM, and Idaho Parks and Recreation. Since 2003, the three agencies have been working together, in collaboration with the AccessFund and local climbers, to develop a multiagency Climbing Management Plan that would govern climbing practices across all of the properties. The climbing plan, which authorizes the establishment of new climbing routes, placement of fixed anchors, and construction of new trails, was adopted by the Idaho Parks and Recreation and currently governs climbing at Castle Rocks State Park, adjacent to the BLM property.

Before also signing on to the climbing management plan, the BLM initiated an environmental assessment in order to survey historic and cultural resources that may be present on the property, and analyze the impact of climbing on those resources. The agency allowed climbing during the environment assessment process, but imposed a ban on overnight camping and bolting/fixed anchors (though a number of routes already had bolts that were placed before the BLM ban was issued).

During the environmental assessment process, the Twin Falls Resource Advisory Council and the Access Fund supported adoption of the Interagency Climbing Management Plan. However, the Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute Tribes native to the area expressed concerns related to potential climbing impacts to cultural resources on the BLM property.

The Access Fund and local climbers have a decade-long history working collaboratively with federal land management agencies in the Castle Rocks Recreation Area. The Access Fund assisted the National Park Service with a land acquisition that enabled the creation of Castle Rocks State Park. Climbers have also worked extensively with the local BLM, Forest Service, and Idaho Parks and Recreation offices to create climbing management plans for the area. The Access Fund looks forward to working with the local BLM office and the local tribes to establish climbing management policies that protect the historic cultural resources, while still allowing for legitimate recreational uses of this public land.