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Raptors: Understanding Climbing Restrictions   

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The defining moment of a climb might just as likely be the glimpse of a rare raptor gliding overhead as a particularly difficult sequence of moves. As climbers, we gain a unique perspective on the world and on the wildlife that inhabits vertical spaces. This intimacy with nature is intricately bound with the climbing experience. As a climber, there are ways that you can help preserve the natural and scenic values of this vertical wilderness, and it begins by understanding and promoting best practices in the protection of cliff-nesting raptors.

Rock Climbing Photo: Respecting raptors

Respecting raptors
Why are seasonal raptor closures/ restrictions needed?
Many cliff-dwelling raptor species are either protected under federal law such as the Endangered Species Act or considered a “species of concern” at the state level. This includes peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and prairie falcons, among others. Protection of their nest sites is therefore a priority for recovery of the species. The most sensitive period in the breeding cycle is incubation, hatching, and fledging, when outside disturbance to the nest site could compromise the chicks.

What constitutes a reasonable closure/ restriction?
The Access Fund works with land managers and expert biologists in the field to identify a reasonable buffer zone around nest sites. Depending on the species, nest location, and history, we encourage closure areas to be limited to a quarter mile or less and to not extend beyond the viewshed of the nest site. However, all nest sites and species are different, and some flexibility is necessary.

How do land managers know if a raptor nest is even present?
Active monitoring is needed to determine if a site is “active” and in need of a buffer zone. Not all nest sites are active year after year, and some fail early due to natural causes.

When should a closure/ restriction be lifted?
Access Fund urges land managers to lift seasonal climbing closures once raptors are no longer using the restricted site, fail to nest, or fledge early. Active monitoring of the nest will determine whether the young successfully fledged or if the nest failed.

What if I identify what I think is an unreasonable closure/restriction?
The key to any successful raptor management policy is to make the closures specific to the raptor species, their nest sites, and their activity year to year—these informed management decisions will encourage responsible recreational use. If you feel that an unreasonable closure is in place, encourage the land manager to actively monitor the site to determine if a nesting raptor is present.

As a climber, you can be a great source of information to assist with raptor monitoring and educating others. Also, contact the Access Fund to discuss specific management policies that may apply to the species, ecosystem, and land management agency in question. Together we can help protect and promote the welfare of the endangered raptors with which we share the cliffs—the climbing experience would be greatly diminished by their absence.

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