Climbing conflicts: Forest Service intervenes in Tensleep Canyon

We haven’t had a recreation piece for some time and this is from April, but…the story is very comprehensive and interesting. Check out the whole article in WyoFile.

Then word got out. And as climbing’s global profile exploded in the last two decades, so too did the canyon’s popularity, threatening it with the now familiar fate of so many Western recreation destinations — being loved to death. Parking lots became overcrowded, user-created trails proliferated, erosion began to degrade areas at the base of cliffs and human waste became an issue as dispersed camping mushroomed.

The discovery of heavily manufactured climbing routes — a widely condemned practice in which the rock is manipulated with tools or glue — fueled a battle over ethical development. Before long the controversy boiled over with online fulminations and a nighttime raid by climbers manually chopping bolts from rock faces.

These photos, which have been widely shared on Facebook, show climbing holds that have been allegedly manipulated by humans either by chipping out rock or glueing. That practice is condemned unethical in the climbing community. (Screenshot/Facebook/Ten Sleep Canyon Aerospace Society)

Into the mess stepped the U.S. Forest Service, which in July of 2019 issued what amounted to a moratorium on the establishment of any new climbing routes or trails in the entire Bighorn National Forest.

In the two years since, the Bighorn’s Powder River Ranger District has been drafting a climbing management plan for Tensleep Canyon. It released a scoping document in February, and received nearly 500 comments by the March deadline. The agency will work through the summer to prepare the draft environmental impact assessment.

The issues in Tensleep Canyon made it clear that the plan was overdue, Powder River District Ranger Traci Weaver said.

“Our stance was: ‘Timeout, give us time to finish our climbing management plan, give us time to move forward thoughtfully and work together with all our user groups … and come up with something that’s sustainable into the future,” she said. “What was happening in Tensleep Canyon was not sustainable.”

The plan has the potential to ripple beyond the walls of the canyon, climbing advocates say. As one of only a handful of Forest Service plans specifically focused on climbing, it could influence how the pursuit is managed on national forest land across the U.S.

Lovers of the canyon say they hope it strikes a balance that protects the precious resource while still allowing for human enjoyment of the place. But with more people than ever visiting public lands like Tensleep Canyon, that task only grows more complicated.

3 thoughts on “Climbing conflicts: Forest Service intervenes in Tensleep Canyon”

    I linked to the access fund, a non profit created to assure access to climbing areas, and climbing magazine, one of the two most popular magazines dedicated to climbing in the US. The other magazine, Rock and Ice, is via subscription only.

    As can be seen in the articles climbers are concerned with being able to climb in the area, and competition over the limited resource (the rock for new routes). Not much mention of overuse of the area itself degrading habitat as in the Wyo File piece which is frankly more encompassing.

  2. “Bitterroot National Forest managers decided now was the time to develop a climbing management plan for all areas of the forest, not only to protect raptors, but also to establish sustainable climbing practices before the canyons start to resemble other overpopulated sites across the nation. The past year of COVID tourism demonstrates that it won’t be long before more people leave their marks on the cliff and canyons.”


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