State game officials say climbers have contributed to habitat degradation for endangered species in several important climbing areas.
Since April 5, climbers in Fayette County in southwestern Pennsylvania have had to drive farther to ascend the rock. The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) found that increased rock climbing on two tracts 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 locations are located on the Youghiogheny River in rural Ohiopyle and near Laurel Canyon farther west. The bouldering at Casparis and Coll’s Cove is now closed, as are Lost Crag and Rob’s Knob, among others.
Southwest PA climbers lose more than 30% of routes
Total closed escalation resources amount to more than 250 known routes and block problems, for Mountain Project. For climbers, this is a significant loss in an area without many stones; Mountain Project lists only 714 total routes (including recent closures) in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The loss is almost certainly even higher between listed areas, lesser known cliffs, and places surveyed but not climbed. But the PGC said the now closed formations hold critical habitats for several rare, threatened or endangered plant and wildlife species.
Increased escalation, the commission said, has worn away the lichens and moss on the rock faces. He also said that the climbing had eroded the landings at the base of the rocks, removing vegetation, woody debris and fallen leaves.
The changes, he found, have degraded the habitat, affecting the species of reptiles, amphibians and mammals that use it.
PGC and PA State Playgrounds
According to internal policy, the PGC did not further specify the species affected. Chris Urban is the Nongame, Threatened, and Endangered Species Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission (PBFC). The ministry helps manage aquatic resources on affected lands. Urban said the southwestern Pennsylvania sandstone is a “basic” element of survival for several non-game species.
“Rocks provide protection from predators, overwintering habitat and hunting grounds for foraging,” he said. “This habitat must be preserved in its natural state if these species are to thrive there.”
Pennsylvania state playgrounds are different from other public properties in terms of primary purpose. A permit system gives priority to hunters and trappers, who can use the land accordingly. Otherwise, the state manages them as wildlife habitats.
The system generally allows for other recreational activities on game lands, although periodic closures occur during hunting or trapping seasons.
According to the PGC, most playgrounds that contain climbable rocks allow climbing. However, the commission said “negative habitat impacts did not result” in areas other than the now closed plots.
Local climbing delegates respond
The Game Commission’s Southwest Region Director, Jason Farabaugh, noted that the commission generally finds climbers “wildlife and habitat friendly” and supportive of conservation.
The Southwest Pennsylvania Climbers Coalition (SWPACC) initially sought to overturn the gambling commission’s decision. Access Fund Climbers’ Pact and “Leave No Trace” ethics, and [requested] that we work together to address habitat management issues while exploring options for maintaining climbing access.
The group remains in communication with the PGC and the PBFC. In the meantime, he asks all climbers to respect the closures and asks anyone with climbing-related comments to contact him rather than state entities. To do this, go to SWPACC website, email the group at [email protected], or find it at social media.