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Access Fund Appeals Unlawful US Forest Service Climbing Ban at Cave Rock


by Editor

May 17, 2005

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

The Access Fund will appeal the ruling made by a federal judge upholding a decision by the US Forest Service (USFS) to ban climbing at Cave Rock. Cave Rock is a multi-use rec­reational area in Nevada on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and the Access Fund believes the climbing ban violates both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitutional and the Administrative Procedure Act.

On December 15, 2003, the Access Fund filed suit in Nevada Federal District Court requesting the court overturn a USFS decision to ban climbing at Cave Rock. On January 28, 2005 a federal judge in Reno, Nevada ruled against the Access Fund's lawsuit. The Access Fund Board of Directors responded on March 15, 2005 by voting to appeal the district court's ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On February 16, 2005 Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson signed an order to begin implementation of the climbing ban with the posting of signs to inform visi­tors of the prohibition. The USFS also announced its intent to remove the safety protection bolts found at Cave Rock even if the Access Fund appealed the federal judge's ruling. On March 28, 2005 the Access Fund filed its appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the USFS ban.

According to the forest supervisor's decision, climbing is the only activity to be prohibited while other "compatible" recreational activities such as hiking, fishing, and picnicking will be allowed to continue because these other activities do not conflict with the "feeling and association" of Cave Rock. US Hwy 50, which runs through Cave Rock via a dynamited tunnel, lies just a few feet away from the climbing area. The Access Fund seeks a more balanced decision from the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court that would allow limited climbing at Cave Rock to continue in a way that does not negatively impact traditional Washoe religious practices.

The USFS's Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) declares that Cave Rock "is being damaged by certain uses, including rock climbing." However, the same FEIS determines that the physical effect of climbing on Cave Rock is insignificant. This contradiction reveals that the physical impact of climbing is not the primary issue justifying the closure. Rather, as stated on page 3-19 of the FEIS, it is the mere "presence of rock climbers and their permanently implanted equipment . . . [that] diminishes the setting, feel and association" of Cave Rock.

"The Access Fund has a long and exemplary history of compromise on similar climbing access issues such as Devils Tower in Wyoming, and the Red River Gorge in Kentucky," stated Jason Keith, policy director for the Access Fund. "At both of these areas, land managers have found ways to bal­ance the interests of recreational and cultural user groups." The Access Fund will continue to educate climbers on culturally sensitive climbing issues. For example, the Cave Rock climbing guidebook asks climbers to "Climb and behave in a respectful manner. Cave Rock is an important spiritual site to the Washoe. Either treat it with respect and reverence or leave." Despite the climbing community's ongoing efforts to create a mutually agreeable solution, the Access Fund is compelled to continue its challenge of the unlawful climbing ban and appeal the dis­trict court's ruling. Not doing so could create a legal precedent leading to future unreasonable and unnecessary closures of public lands nationwide. Check out for more information.

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