PA Sport Fee Kills Well-liked Rock Climbing Areas

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State wildlife wardens say climbers have contributed to habitat degradation for endangered species at several prominent climbing sites.

Beginning April 5, climbers in Fayette County, southwestern Pennsylvania, will have to travel farther to get to the rock. The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) found that increased climbing on two parcels of state-owned land in the county was damaging plant and animal habitats.

State Game Lands 51 and 138 are home to several popular sandstone cliffs. The sites are on the Youghiogheny River in rural Ohiopyle and near Laurel Canyon further west. Bouldering at Casparis and Coll’s Cove is now closed, as is Lost Crag and Rob’s Knob, among others.
(Photo/Jakec via Wiki Commons)

Southwest PA climbers lose over 30% of routes

Totally closed Climb Resources amount to over 250 known routes and boulder problems per Mountain Project. For climbers, it’s a significant loss in an area without much stone; Mountain Project lists only 714 total routes (including recent closures) in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Between the areas listed, lesser-known rocks, and places explored but not climbed, the loss is almost certainly higher. However, the PGC claimed that the now-closed formations harbor critical habitats for several rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal species.

elevated climbing, explained the commissionHe has removed lichens and mosses from rock faces. It also said that climbing had eroded landings at the bases of rocks, removing vegetation, woody debris, and foliage.

The changes, it noted, degraded the habitat and affected the reptile, amphibian and mammalian species that use it.
no climbing(Photo/alexfan32 via Shutterstock)

The PGC and PA State Game Lands

According to internal guidelines, the PGC has not further specified the affected species. Chris Urban is the Nongame, Threatened and Endangered Species Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission (PBFC). The department helps manage the water resources in the affected areas. Urban said the sandstone of Southwest Pennsylvania is a “fundamental” survival element for several non-wild species.

“The rocks provide shelter from predators, wintering habitats and grounds for foraging,” he said. “This habitat should be preserved in its natural state if these species are to thrive there.”

Pennsylvania’s state game lands differ from other public lands in terms of primary purpose. A licensing system prioritizes hunters and trappers who can use the terrain accordingly. Otherwise, the state manages them as wildlife habitats.

The system normally allows for other wildlife recreations, although there are regular closures during hunting or trapping seasons.

According to the PGC, most wildlife areas with climbable rocks allow climbing. However, the commission said there had been “no negative impacts on habitat” in areas other than the now-closed plots.

Response from the local climbing stewards

Jason Farabaugh, director of the Southwest Region Game Commission, noted that the commission generally finds climbers to be “respectful of wildlife and habitat” and supporters of conservation.

The Southwest Pennsylvania Climbers Coalition (SWPACC) initially sought to overturn the gaming commission’s decision. In a letter written shortly after the closure, SWPACC emphasized its “commitment to wildlife conservation, consistent with Access Fund’s Climbers Pact and ‘Leave No Trace’ ethic, and [requested] that we are working together to address habitat management concerns while exploring options for maintaining access to climbing.”

The group remains in touch with PGC and PBFC. In the meantime, it is asking all climbers to abide by the closures and is urging anyone with feedback on climbing to contact it rather than government agencies. Go to the SWPACC website, email the group at [email protected] or find them at social media.

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