USFS Abandons Ten Sleep Management Plan, Keeps New-Routing Ban
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Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest announced it would postpone its long-awaited management plan for Ten Sleep Canyon. A ban on new routing in the uber-popular sport climbing area is still in effect.
On Monday, the U.S. Forest Service suspended its anticipated climbing management plan for Ten Sleep Canyon after its lead ranger resigned. Powder River District Ranger Traci Weaver guided the plan’s progress until leaving her position in June. Now, the USFS says, the program has no timetable to resume.
“There were some items that were coming up through the data collection and some questions, and we just can’t really answer those yet until we get our permanent district ranger in place,” Sara Evans Kirol, Bighorn National Forest public affairs officer, told WyoFile.
Previously, the agency expected to release an environmental impact statement this fall.
Unregulated Climbing Causes Tension in Ten Sleep
With 1,200 sport routes on canyonside limestone and seemingly endless potential for more, Ten Sleep Canyon is one of the United States’ premier sport climbing destinations. For years, climbing in the canyon has been self-regulated, an ethic that reflects the local area’s frontier approach to life.
The Bighorn National Forest’s climbing management plan addressed burgeoning infrastructure concerns. Ever-increasing visitation meant that dirt parking lots and impromptu roadside camping would need to give way to regulated locations with facilities. Trails (established and social) along the miles of cliff face would require management and maintenance.
Highly publicized conflicts over route manufacturing have also generated concern among multiple user groups. So, in 2019, the National Forest banned new route development in the canyon and initiated a management plan.
New Management Plan Proposed, Then Dropped
Progress looked to be on track, as it released a scoping document in February that drew 500 comments with a public input period.
The document outlined several critical issues in the 26,000-acre area. Focal points included dangerous highway and parking conditions, human and pet waste concerns, and cliff base erosion. It also cited impacts on wildlife like nesting raptors and dispersed camping within 100 feet of vital waterways.
“Our stance was: ‘Timeout, give us time to finish our climbing management plan, give us time to move forward thoughtfully and work together with all our user groups … and come up with something that’s sustainable into the future’,” Weaver said before her departure. “What was happening in Ten Sleep Canyon was not sustainable.”
The user groups Weaver mentioned are diverse and widespread — bird watchers and hunters also use the canyon prolifically. And the town of Ten Sleep, just a few miles downstream, experiences profound effects.
According to her, the guerrilla-style chipping tactics and unmanaged route development of the late 2010s proved inflammatory for everyone involved.
Weaver said in the comments for the scoping documents, “[T]hat was probably the No. 1 issue because we heard from climbers and non-climbers alike about that.”
It’s unclear when the Bighorn National Forest will actively resume plans to manage Ten Sleep climbing again. For now, visitors can expect little about the experience to change until the Forest Service finds Weaver’s replacement.
According to Kirol, agency leaders “are working very diligently trying to fill the position because it’s a priority for the forest.”
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