Despite Swell of Advocacy, NPS Made it Easier to Ban Climbing

In early November, Access Fund launched an advocacy effort to stop the National Park Service (NPS) from issuing a Director’s Order that included a provision that would allow them to more easily restrict recreation activities like climbing. Over 50 local climbing organizations from around the country joined in this advocacy effort.

However, despite bi-partisan criticism and a swell of advocacy from Congressional representatives and other recreation and conservation organizations, NPS Director Jarvis approved Director’s Order #100: Resource Stewardship for the 21st Century (DO#100) before he left office, with the problematic provision intact.

This provision—called the Precautionary Principle—institutionalizes a risk management strategy that allows land managers to prohibit or restrict appropriate uses, without comprehensive analyses or stakeholder input, if “an activity raises plausible or probable threats of harm to park resources.”

The Precautionary Principle (DO#41, 6.2): The Precautionary Principle requires that, when an action, activity, or emerging condition raises plausible or probable threats of harm to park resources and/or human health, management should take anticipatory action even when there is uncertainty.”

While this provision has merit and is intended to protect NPS resources, it would also allow land managers to prohibit lesser-understood activities like climbing with no evidence, until future studies shed light on issues of concern. Rock climbers are a relatively small minority of National Park System visitors, and climbing management is typically lower priority than management issues that affect larger visitor populations

While this “ban first, ask questions later” provision could fast track climbing closures, Access Fund is currently working with an internal NPS climbing management work group to help managers better understand climbing best practices, benefits, and management options in order preemptively prevent unnecessary closures and restrictions in our National Parks. We remain watchful and will work with NPS officials to advocate for balanced, well-substantiated climbing management at national parks across the country.

Stay tuned for updates.