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Cave comments from the Access Fund

Les Moscoso
Recreation Planner
Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District
Deschutes National Forest
1230 NE Third Street Suite A-262
Bend, OR 97701

7th July 2000

Dear Mr. Moscoso,

Re: Road 18 Cave Environmental Assessment

As follow up to the Access Fund's meeting with the Deschutes National Forest on the 19th and 20th June, we are pleased to submit comments that we hope will facilitate the preparation of the Road 18 Cave Environmental Assessment.

The following comments were prepared in consultation with the Oregon Climbers Coalition (OCC), and focus on issues identified in our on-site discussions in June.

As you know the Access Fund is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit conservation and advocacy group representing the interests of climbers in the United States. Working in cooperation with climbers, other recreational users, public lands managers and private land owners, the Access Fund promotes the responsible use and sound management of climbing resources. We encourage an ethic of personal responsibility, self-regulation, strong conservation values and minimum impact practices among climbers.

In our previous letter to the Deschutes dated 24th May 2000 we described how we assist resource managers in a variety of ways. For example, the Access Fund provides grant funding for studies and resource mitigation projects, consults on policy and planning, helps to organize and educate local climbers, and networks with other interest groups and management agencies.

The Access Fund recognizes the challenging and unusual situation in which the Deschutes finds itself with respect to management of the Road 18 caves. We reiterate our support for the proposed management direction insofar as it would provide for improved oversight of this sensitive area through a range of measures such as controlled parking, improved education outreach, and seasonal wildlife restrictions. Furthermore, we believe climbers will support and comply with this level of oversight, especially if they retain a stake in the area through preservation of some climbing opportunities, and if use restrictions are primarily based on a more site specific analysis of climber effects on cave resource values, evaluated in context with effects of other recreation users.

1. Supplemental information on climbing opportunities at the Road 18 caves, and definition of the climbing experiences.

The Deschutes has requested additional information about the climbing experience at the Road 18 caves.

In addition to the details provided in this submission, The Access Fund recommends that the Deschutes work with the Oregon Climbers Coalition to obtain better information about the history of use of climbs in the Road 18 caves, and an understanding about the special qualities and environmental character that makes climbing at the Road 18 caves areas such a valued experience in Oregon.

There are two distinct climbing opportunities that can be experienced at the Road 18 cave entrances. These can be described as sport climbing and bouldering. Out of the 10 caves included within the Road 18 Cave strategy, climbing opportunities have been available in three. The unusual geology and topography of the caves provide a unique climbing experience. Special characteristics of this climbing include the rock texture, challenging body positioning, steepness, cool temperature, protected aspect, opportunities for intimacy with nature, unusual ambiance, and quiet setting in a high desert environment.

The climbing opportunities can be summarized:
Hidden Forest Cave
Sport climbing in main cavern
Small bouldering site at entrance to squeeze hole through to Hidden Forest main cave
Skeleton Cave
Bouldering site at entrance zone to cave
Charcoal #1 - Note - Currently restricted - 3 sport climbing routes at left side of cave entrance

The climbing experience at the Road 18 caves is a good example of the diverse climbing opportunities and unique environments that climbers appreciate in the United States. However, this area is the only place in the country where this type of climbing opportunity can be experienced. Despite the fact that the extent (scale) of the climbing is limited, and that the climbing is so technically difficult, virtually all the climbers who have visited the caves believe they offer a unique climbing experience that should be preserved.

Description of climbing opportunities
The various types of technical climbing are generally defined by the characteristics of the experience. Sport Climbing emphasizes movement of extreme difficulty, minimizing risk, and relatively short and uncomplicated approaches and descents. Sport climbing routes are typified by bolt anchors and overhanging rock. Not all sport climbers place bolts - only the first ascent party places bolts, and all subsequent parties use these bolts. Historically climbers have been responsible for determining when and where to place, and replace, bolts. Sport climbing typically involves short single rope length routes (i.e. < 50 meters). Climbs generally end at fixed anchors where the sustained difficulty of the climb diminishes or the character of the rock changes. The climber descends, by being lowered or rappelling from these top anchors.

Bouldering
Bouldering is the term given to climbing that concentrates on short sequential moves on rock usually no more than 20ft off the ground. Typically falls are very short (a few feet) and usually inconsequential, unless the climber lands awkwardly, or on a tree root or protruding rock. Each climbable sequence of moves is called a “boulder problem”, and each boulder problem varies in difficulty. Boulder problems are given different grades of difficulty. Climbers typically will try difficult moves many times before succeeding on a given boulder problem. Some use bouldering as practice for bigger climbs: others pursue it exclusively as a rewarding sport in its own right.
Bouldering requires relatively little equipment other than rock shoes, chalk and sometimes the use of a bouldering 'crash pad'. Bouldering pads (4' by 3' and up to 5" thickness) may be placed below climbs to soften falls and lessen risk of injury from accidental bad landing. Bouldering embraces a greater degree of risk than sport climbing, and a sense of freedom that derives from the focus on pure movement rather than on equipment.

Magnesium carbonate powder (“chalk”) is used by both sport climbers and boulderers to improve contact between fingers and rock. In steep, technically difficult, humid environments, the use of chalk is widely considered as essential for the activity. See Appendix A for further discussion, as well as the Access Fund's comments on use of hand drying agents in earlier correspondence dated 24th May.

2. Organization of climber representatives.

The Access Fund recognizes that the issue of climbing in the Road 18 caves has been difficult in part because there has not been a consistent voice speaking for climbers. In any discussion concerning recreational use management and natural resource protection, communications are facilitated by working through an organized and representative user group. To this end the Oregon Climbers Coalition has been set up as a registered climbers organization. All correspondence can be directed through:
Chairman - Larry Brumwell
Address: 550 SW Industrial Way #39, Bend OR 97702
Tel: 541 388 6764 Fax: 541 388 6764 E-mail: Larry@inclimb.com

The Access Fund has more than ten years experience in organizing and working with local grassroots groups of climbers, and we are pleased to help OCC become established. In addition to our two organizations, the regional chapter of the American Alpine Club (Oregon section), and the Bend-based climbing club the Cascades Mountaineers are available for consultation on climbing management and resource protection issues.

3. Analysis of climber effects on natural resource values of the Road 18 caves.

The Access Fund remains concerned about the analysis of climber effects on natural resource values in the Road 18 caves. Specifically, we think the analysis has not been comprehensive enough to provide a good basis for making decisions about visitation restrictions. As we have stated in previous discussions, we do not think the relationship between climber effects on the resource and the present status of cave values is clear. Our impression from the June site visit is that there are significant impacts in the cave entrances caused by other users. As the information is currently presented in the Cave Strategy and Road 18 Caves EA, effects from climbers and those caused by other users are sometimes confused and not always separated. While we recognize that the Deschutes has already invested considerable time and effort in preparing the Cave Strategy document, we think there needs to be additional examination of how and to what extent climbers' impacts on natural resources affect cave values.

3.1. Site-specific analysis for cave resource values
The cave strategy document addresses resource values for the Road 18 caves by considering the ten caves as a whole. Without examining each cave on a case by case basis for each of the values listed, then relating how the specific pattern of climbing activity in a linear zone specifically interacts with or affects the resource, we do not see that there is necessary baseline information to guide a management response which is the least intrusive to public use and enjoyment of the resource, as mandated in the Forest Service Manual. We suggest that a way of addressing this concern may be to complete additional survey/evaluation work in the areas where there is an information shortfall. This would entail site-specific surveys in the linear climbing zones in Charcoal, Hidden Forest and Skeleton Caves. Once the pattern of climbing activity is fully understood and examined in terms of the contact zone of the activity with the specified resource values, will there be a clear understanding of user effect. If the Deschutes will have difficulty finding the resources to accomplish this additional analysis, the Access Fund may be able to provide assistance through our environmental grants program.

3.2. Context of cave values and integrity of sites
It is difficult to understand the sensitivity of cave values, and the integrity and need for restoration of cave resources in the Road 18 area, when these caves are considered as an isolated group and not in the context of the extensive cave and natural resource values found within the broader Newberry volcanic area. Comparing the resources of the Road 18 caves with the condition of cave resources throughout the region would provide a better sense of how threatened are vegetation, fauna, and cultural and archeological resources by human influence and other factors. It may be that certain natural resources found in the Road 18 caves, which have been adversely affected by human use may be plentiful and vigorous in other caves. Conversely, a contextual analysis could reveal that certain resources found in the Road 18 caves represent the only or most viable populations in the region, which would compel a different management response.

* See Appendix A for examples of how further analysis would aid understanding and clarification of climber effects on Road 18 cave resource values.

4. Proposal for a management alternative to preserve a limited climbing experience at the Road 18 caves.

In our meeting last month the Forest Service requested that we make suggestions for alternative management scenarios and strategies that would achieve cave resource protection objectives while preserving some climbing opportunities in the Road 18 caves. There are a number of examples of climbing and resource management in other federal land areas that might provide useful guidance. These examples are grounded in a comprehensive education and outreach effort, and have achieved high levels of awareness and compliance among climbers. Two such examples are found in the backcountry access policy at Canyonlands National Park, where visitors must complete an orientation process and obtain a permit to camp, and at Rocky Mountain National Park, where climbers must also read educational materials and obtain a permit before camping in the alpine environments which typify the backcountry of this park.

The Deschutes has expressed concern about the challenges of a management scenario in which climbing would continue in the Road 18 caves. In particular, questions were raised about how to promote better awareness and personal responsibility among visitors, how to encourage or enforce compliance with rules and regulations, how to make visitors accountable for their violations or mistakes, how to keep climbers within defined spatial limits, and how to determine and enforce the “carrying capacity” of the caves for climbers over discrete time periods. All of these concerns are legitimate and can be addressed through collaboration between the Forest Service, the climbing community, and other stakeholders. Any management proposal which would preserve climbing opportunities in the Road 18 caves should emphasize minimum-impact techniques and principles advocated by cave experts and the Leave No Trace, Inc., educational program. These principles include individual responsibility for one's conduct, well defined management guidelines and expectations of visitors, and an unambiguous and tailored “code of conduct” based on the analysis of cave resources and values and climbers' effects on these values.

The Access Fund encourages regular communication between the OCC and the Deschutes National Forest regarding the development of a management alternative that would preserve some climbing opportunities in the Road 18 caves. It is our understanding that local climbers are ready and willing to discuss limits on climbing, and are now more organized to help with studies, cleanups, and other actions to benefit the caves. We have been assured that the OCC is eager to work with the Deschutes on developing guidelines and a code of conduct specific to the resource protection requirements of the Road 18 caves.

Discussion of possible management alternatives should draw on:
1. Identification of areas where climbing opportunities can be permitted on a trial and review basis. This could include a restriction on some climbing routes but not others based on their proximity and how climbing activity affects specific cave resource values.
2. An orientation/briefing process for climbing visitors to the caves so that they can be informed and personally responsible on special use requirements.
3. Improved education outreach about the sensitivity of the area as a whole and the cave entrance areas through signage at trailheads and information sheets provided in local climbing outlets or through an orientation process. Outreach could cover specific guidance on issues such as parking, seasonal wildlife closures, vegetation sensitivity, restrictions on camp and stove fires, camping, domestic animals (dogs), access and approach paths, not leaving quick draws or other climbing equipment, respecting soil, rock and other cave resources, respect to other visitors, noise, human waste disposal. * Examples of outreach materials and signage are attached to this submission
4. Consideration of allowing hand-drying agents in limited areas subject to whether the primary concern about their use is visual or physical effects. Consider alternative products and practices to reduce effects.
5. Camouflage existing permitted anchors though assistance from OCC.
6. Establish protection zones around sensitive vegetation communities, boulder accumulations and soil deposits to reduce disturbance from general visitor use using techniques such as signage, natural materials and path diversion where appropriate.
7. Rock art — Identification of extent of rock art at Hidden Forest Cave and discreet signing showing boundaries of protected zone. Suggest use of Access Fund/OCC names to indicate user group support of restricted access. In addition consider possible diversion and identification of alternative approach path at Hidden Forest Cave.
8. Establishment of regular climbing liaison meetings between Deschutes National Forest and OCC to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of a permitted climbing arrangement.
9. Establishing a record of climber/volunteer activities and initiatives to record site meetings, efforts to look after the cave environment through litter cleans ups and outreach initiatives.
10. Consider additional funding sources such as the Access Fund Environmental grants program to assist with funding costs for some of the above initiatives.

5. Agency contacts for climbing and resource management.

The Deschutes inquired whether the Access Fund could provide agency contacts and management examples of similar situations involving cave values and climbing management.
The situation in the Newberry volcanic area is unique, and the management direction needs to be tailored to the specific conditions of this area.

The Access Fund cannot provide examples of similar situations involving cave entrances, although some of the issues such as cultural resources, wildlife, and vegetation sensitivity are commonly experienced by resource managers in other areas. We have worked closely with the Forest Service and other federal agencies on related issues around the country. The following contacts are representative of some recent collaborative work and may be able to provide useful feedback to inform the Road 18 caves decision-making.

1. Donnie Richardson — District Ranger, Stanton Ranger District Daniel Boone National Forest, KY Tel: (606) 663 2852 Coordinated Forest Service interdisciplinary team in turning around a divided user group/agency situation into an established agency user group working relationship and effective management program (issues access, archaeological sites, vegetation, trails, fixed anchors, education outreach).
Cecile Ison — Archaeologist, Daniel Boone National Forest, KY Tel: (859) 745 3138
2. Joe Pollini — Recreation Manager, BLM Proposed Wilderness study area Volcanic Tablelands, Bishop Field Office, CA Tel: (760) 872 4881 Rapid growth in popularity of a bouldering area — issues included cultural resources (rock art), minimal publicity policy for agreed climbing areas, code of practice for use of sensitive environment.
3. Tom Skinner — Wildlife Biologist, Coronado National Forest, AZ Tel: (520) 670 4535 Turned around a divided user group/agency situation into an effective management program - issues - seasonal wildlife restrictions.
4. Lori Denton — Recreation Planner, Coconino National Forest, Peaks Ranger District, AZ Tel: (520) 526 0866 Coordination of climber visitor and use surveys, trails.

The Access Fund again thanks the Deschutes National Forest for the opportunity to comment on the management strategy and proposed environmental assessment for the Road 18 caves. The climbing opportunities in these caves, while quite limited, are unique and compelling enough to merit a comprehensive analysis of the importance of the opportunities to climbers, and the effects of climbing on cave values, both on a cave by cave basis and in the context of the regional cave resource. We hope our remarks are received in the spirit of cooperation with which they are submitted, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss in greater detail planning alternatives and possible scenarios under which some climbing could be preserved in the Road 18 caves.

Sincerely

Kath Pyke
Conservation Director

cc: District Ranger - Bend Fort Rock Ranger District
Forest Supervisor - Deschutes National Forest
Chairman - Oregon Climbers Coalition
Executive Director - The Access Fund

* Encs.

Appendix A

Examples of how further analysis could aid understanding and clarification of climber effects on Road 18 cave resource values.

Of the 10 caves considered within the Road 18 Caves EA we suggest the following additional analysis at the three caves (i.e. Skeleton, Charcoal #1 and Hidden Forest) that have climbing recreation opportunities. Any analysis should also take into account effects from other users, and cumulative disturbance affects from past history of non-climbing use. We also suggest that effects from climbing are evaluated following a schematic approach. This method has proved helpful for analysis of climbing effects in other public lands areas.

Schematic breakdown of the stages of a climbing visit
1. Approach path to the climbing area from the trailhead
2. Base of climb (staging area)
3. The vertical part of the climb (linear climbing zone)
4. The descent from the climb
5. The exit path from the climbing area to the trailhead

Cave Resource values
1. Vegetation
Unless there has been a detailed survey of what species are present at each cave on the approach path taken by climbers, other visitors, and at the base of the specific climbs we are unable to assess what effects climbers versus other visitors are having on the vegetation communities and consequently what measures may or may not be necessary to mitigate trampling effects and allow restoration efforts.

2. Invertebrate fauna
The boulder accumulations within the cave entrances and further back into the caves are stated as important habitat for invertebrates. Clarification is required on what species are present in each of the 3 sites where climbing has taken place, and which areas are more sensitive than others. Unless this level of information is available we cannot assess how climbers versus other users maybe affecting invertebrate fauna viability, and consequently introduce management measures such as zoning to protect sensitive populations.

3. Bat populations
The Access Fund is supportive of seasonal climbing restrictions to protect bat populations, although usually there is an emphasis on maternity colonies. In our organization's support of seasonal wildlife closures we standardly share information (as much as it is available) with agencies on species sensitivity to disturbance, breeding success and population viability for the area in terms of local, state and regional context. In the Road 18 caves situation we have not been able to gain a thorough understanding of the situation. We understand that in Stookey Ranch Cave the bat population represents over 60% of the Central Oregon population for that species.
We would like to ask what percentages of the cave resources do the different bat populations and species require. If their protection is driven by Threatened and Endangered species listing under federal protection laws this should be made clear. However if there is a balance to be achieved between percentage of resources protected and visitor access to other sites, this requires further discussion in terms of regional USFS bat protection policy.

4. Cave soils
Cave soils have been highlighted as a special value associated with the Road 18 caves. However we were unable to obtain a clear understanding as to which caves held more sensitive deposits than others, where these sites are located within the caves, and how much their value and site integrity had been changed through previous human use and disturbance of the sites. Unless this information is available we cannot ascertain how climbing affects soil values, by relating where any trampling or disturbance from climbing may take place in relation to the sensitive areas.

5. Archaeological/Cultural
The Access Fund recognizes that there are confidentiality issues in discussing sites with sensitive cultural and archaeological values. However, without some broad degree of information sharing on these issues, we cannot identify how climbing might be affecting resource values. For example at Charcoal Cave #1 it was not clear what agency or organization is conducting the current archaeological survey, nor the time scale for completion. Without information about what sections of the cave are being examined we cannot correlate how climbing activity may be affecting these values. The Access Fund standardly supports zoning off areas to protect cultural interest. However these situations focus on specific sites rather than an entire area unless there is justification about disturbance to warrant complete restrictions on access.

6. Chalk and geology values
The Access Fund would encourage a more thorough analysis of the effect of chalk on geology and visual values for the three caves in question. There is limited information about how chalk interacts with rock surfaces. The study by Donnie McGowan in Climbing magazine (April 1987) that is sometimes referenced in these discussions has been questioned by subsequent authors (Stuart Swineford, August 1994, Rock and Ice magazine).
For each of the caves we recommend clarification over whether chalk is a visual or physical effect concern. At Skeleton Cave, a past history of fires and soot blackened walls questions concerns about use of chalk affecting carbon dating potential. At Hidden Forest Cave, natural calcite secretions can be confused with chalk deposits. If chalk or climbing activity is affecting fragile geologic features we recommend that individual climbing routes be surveyed within their linear zones. OCC would be able to provide roped assistance so that someone with relevant expertise could closely examine the cave walls. At Charcoal Cave #1, chalk use would not be apparent to public users due to the distance of this site from the public trail.
The Access Fund welcomes working with the Deschutes to examine options that reduce visual effects of chalk through regular chalk clean ups following prescribed agency guidelines, methods to minimize chalk use and spill such as use of chalk balls, and potential use of hand drying agent alternatives for the most visible sites.

7. Fixed Anchors
Fixed anchors are standardly used by cavers to access cave systems. Any discussion of climbing use of fixed anchors in cave entrances should not lose sight of this fact. In terms of potential damage to the rock, an evaluation needs to be made of total rock area affected, whether fixed anchors affect rock integrity, whether their placement damages any fragile geologic structures. In terms of visual intrusion this discussion should also be placed in context with other features. For example metal ladder access to Skeleton Cave. Fixed anchors can be effectively disguised by camouflage techniques. The Access Fund does not condone leaving quick draws in place after climbing use and the climbing community would be expected to take away all removable items of climbing equipment after a visit.

 

 

 

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