Williamson Rock Update

Date: 12/12/2012

Williamson Rock was Southern California’s premier summer sport climbing destination until it was closed to protect the endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog (MYLF). In December 2005, the Angeles National Forest restricted access to Williamson Rock as a result of lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations (collectively referred to as “CBD”). The CBD successfully challenged the Forest Service’s 2005 revised forest plans for the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padre and San Bernardino National Forests. CBD’s suit succeeded because Biological Opinions regarding the 2005 revised forest plans failed to issue Incidental Take Statements for the MYLF as required by the Endangered Species Act. The Access Fund, Friends of Williamson, and local climbers immediately started working with the Forest Service on ways to protect MYLF habitat and re-open Williamson Rock.

In September 2009, the Forest Service proposed a plan to re-open Williamson Rock to climbing with restrictions meant to protect critical habitat of the MYLF. Unfortunately, around the same time the Station Fire burnt much of the Angeles National Forest, including habitat of the MYLF. The Forest Service decided that given the loss of other MYLF habitat in the Station Fire, Williamson Rock could not be re-opened as proposed. In June 2011, the Court issued an injunctive Order that judicially closed Williamson Rock until an amended Biological Survey concerning the MYLF is completed (there was a 6 month deadline from the date of the Order and then 60 days to implement the decision). Shortly thereafter, Angeles National Forest attempted to institute a 3-year administrative closure of Williamson Rock to protect MYLF habitat. Allied Climbers of San Diego (ACSD), a local climbing organization and joint member of the Access Fund, stepped up to administratively appeal the 3-year closure.

The Angeles National Forest withdrew the decision to close Williamson Rock for 3 years and ACSD’s appeal was dismissed as moot. Currently, Williamson Rock remains closed to protect the MYLF and will likely not re-open until the 2005 Biological Opinions and revised forest plans are amended. ACSD has worked with MYLF expert Dr. Ronald Knapp, who has opined that if managed properly, climbing is not a threat to the MYLF population of Williamson Rock. The Forest Service requested and received additional time to amend the 2005 Biological Opinions and revised forest plans. The Access Fund and Allied Climbers of San Diego will continue to work on getting Williamson Rock re-opened, but there is no quick solution.