Breaking Trail, and the Law

Standing on the side of a dusty gravel road overlooking a valley of tan grasses and green pines, John Rohrer, a wildlife biologist and program manager with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), points to a rock face roughly a quarter mile away and tells its story. Armed with landscaping tools and a drill, a local rock climber named Brian Burdo broke a trail through the underbrush leading up to the wall, drilled dozens of metal bolts into the rock, and named the new climbing area “The Matrix Wall”. To climbers, this development was an exciting opportunity, but to Rohrer and others in USFS, it was a dilemma. Burdo did not consult with the Forest Service before building his trail, which was not only illegal, but it also prevented the agency from conducting research that is required by law for development on public land. It just so happened that the new trail ran directly over a den used by rattlesnakes in the winter to huddle together and stay warm. This not only presents an obvious risk to trail users, but it also disrupts important habitat for these animals. The Forest Service fined Burdo for his actions, but has allowed the trail and bolts to remain in place. With the Methow Valley becoming an increasingly popular location for recreationists, the Forest Service needs to simultaneously monitor for illegal development as well as build a relationship with the local climbing community to establish strong bolting and trail-building ethics and collaborate on future projects.