Deep in the Fiery Furnace, climbers and canyoneers have devised routes over the years. Arches National Park has never had an official policy governing these activities, and suddenly one is wanted by a higher-up. Two of the employees who are gathering data for this assessment were heading up into the Furnace today, and took me along for practice with ropes and rappels.
We were all gratified to see that, other than some rope rubs and grooves at the edges of rappels, there does not appear to be significant resource damage from these activities. What interested me most, however, was that my colleagues — one climber and one canyoneer — had difficulty agreeing on what should be and shouldn’t be permitted in the park. Personal biases are strong forces, and it’s my guess that many policies in place are tainted with these biases. Fortunately, the new policy-makers’ intentions include trying to AVOID bias; several mechanisms are in place to assist with that.
While we’re talking about biases, mine is that the 75 individual permits we’ll allow each day in the Furnace is FAR too high a number. The footprints off-path and through fragile environments caused far more damage than the rope rubs. Rangers who are struggling to give tours on those sold-out 75-permit days report that people are tripping over each other among the fins. That number, apparently, was pulled out of a hat instead of being evidence-based. I would love to see that number slashed to 25; let’s protect that resource, and its rare species!
And yet… (pause) … is 25 evidence-based?!? It’s a number I pulled out of my head. More data is needed.