Forest Service Eases Access for Groups

The next generation climbing on our public lands. Photo credit: AAC's Ron Funderburke

The next generation climbing on our public lands. Photo credit: AAC's Ron Funderburke

Our national forests provide awe and inspiration for millions of climbers. Their vertical playgrounds capture our spirit of adventure and challenge us to dig deep for our best selves. Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced that they will make it easier for outfitters, guides, schools and non-profits to take groups into our national forests. This announcement begins an important turning point in climbing access. Historically, individuals and organizations that teach climbing have faced challenges in obtaining permits from the USFS. They are often subject to significant fees, commercial use authorizations, and other requirements. The American Alpine Club has long been advocating for reforming the system.

The education and mentorship provided by guides, outdoor leaders and instructors are critical for the development of competent climbers who travel light on the land. We believe that individuals and organizations that teach climbing should have easy access to the land they need for classes. Doing so will lead to a greater appreciation for public lands and will help cultivate the next generation of stewards.  “We need to be active in meeting a changing population of climbers and other visitors to our National Forests. Good instruction gives people the skills for a lifetime of enjoyment they can pursue safely and with the knowledge to care for the land we all love,” says Phil Powers, AAC CEO.

The Forest Service states that its new, streamlined approach to special-use permitting will be implemented over time and will make it easier and faster to receive or renew permits. Steps being taken include:

  • Increasing consistency in the permit process across the country.
  • Increasing use of allowable waivers when a special use permit is not required.
  • Investing in technology, including an electronic permit application process.

However, sufficient funding is critical to making it happen. Without the resources to implement these steps, land managers won’t have the capacity to process new permits. Budget cuts on top of the growing costs of fighting wildfire has come at the expense of the staff who administers permits. We still need Congress to pass a real budget fix. A fire funding solution will help ensure that the USFS will be able to welcome those who want to learn how to climb through instruction on public lands.  We take our responsibility for caring for these lands seriously and we applaud the Forest Service’s efforts.