For the week of July 8 thru July 14, 1998  

Senate committee proposes ban on Forest Service fixed-anchor ban

Express Staff Writer

The recent Forest Service ban on fixed climbing anchors in wilderness areas is being challenged by a Senate subcommittee.

Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations, has added a rider to the Forest Service’s 1999 budget that would in effect halt the ban until more public input has been heard on the issue.

The budget rider requires "the Forest Service rescind its decision prohibiting the use of fixed anchors for rock climbing in wilderness areas. No decision prohibiting the use of such anchors in the National Forests shall be implemented until the Forest Service follows a procedure which will ensure active public participation in the decision-making process."

The Forest Service prohibited the use of permanent bolts in wilderness areas in a nationwide decision after Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere decided in September 1996 that no additional fixed anchors would be allowed in the Sawtooths.

LeVere’s 1996 decision was appealed by climbers and conservationists alike. The debate centered around whether bolts are installations--which are prohibited by the 1964 Wilderness Act--or whether they are necessary safety precautions.

The dual appeal signaled to the Forest Service that a national decision was necessary. On June 1, acting associate deputy chief Darrel Kenops concluded that fixed anchors are installations and would be banned.

The Senate budget rider--which is included in the language of an appropriations bill that must pass the Senate and the House to become law--challenges the decision that affects more than 40 national forest wilderness areas nationwide.

"We didn’t become familiar with the ban until members of our recreational community brought it to our attention," said Cynthia Bergman, a spokesperson for Gorton. "There was effectively no public comment."

Gorton believes that such a sweeping change should not have been made without substantial public hearings. Because the national decision was based on an appeal, there were no environmental assessments or other public comment periods as there had been in the Sawtooths.

LeVere said there were five years of public input on the issue during the environmental assessment of the Sawtooth Wilderness plan.

"The [Forest Service] chief was trying to use his discretionary review of us to set national policy," LeVere said. "But since we have met the public input obligation, my guess is that my decision would stand."

Liz Close, a national forest program leader in Washington, D.C., who oversees wilderness areas, said that if the rider passed, it would basically cancel the Sawtooth decision on a national, appellate level. However, she said, whether this would also rescind LeVere’s local decision would remain to be seen.

"What this will definitely do," Close said, "is reopen the issue nationwide."


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