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Visiting Climbers to NRG Dismayed
OffLine Old Dirty Master
  2009-05-04 05:21:36    

Chris Lindner showed-up this weekend with hopes of climbing Proper Soul or Lord Voldemort,  both are 14s located in the New River Gorge at the now-closed Cirque.  Last year, he sent a long-standing project here, The Crouch 13d, and hoped to return to work on some more difficult lines.  The Cirque is home to the highest concentration of difficult climbs in West Virginia, and an exceptional rainy-day crag. Hundreds of climbers are poised to descend upon the New River Gorge region in the next week for the 7th annual New River Rendezvous http://www.newriverrendezvous.com . Certainly a very many that were hoping to climb at this premiere sector will be surprised, dismayed and disappointed by the NPS's decision to make it off-limits to all human activity because 
the closure is not just to climbing, but to hiking as well.

This closure is ostensibly because of nesting peregrine falcons...the same falcons we have been seeing since November of last year. The Cirque was a busy place for we locals over the Fall and Winter and early Spring. Under the MOU between NRAC and the NPS, much-needed re-equipping and replacement of aging fixed protection routes was undertaken by myself and others...but,  with little warning...actually NO warning, this area was suddenly closed (until further notice) in mid-March...trapping many quickdraws to rot in the sun on this south-facing gem, a federal crime to trespass. Shortly after this closure, a rescue helicopter pilot got in trouble for flying too close to the area while on a sortie to assess suitability of landing sites for emergency (human) rescue operations (! ) The alleged nesting site or "scratch" is the black spot on the ledge located 20' below the hack site, which is the natural-looking 3' x 6' white box with pvc pipe extending down to it in the following image:

The closest climbing routes to this area are the rarely-done second half of Superstition 12d to the right 60-some feet and down some 20 feet, and Proper Soul 14a, off the picture to the left, more than 100 feet away. In fact the closest access to this area would be from the trail to the hack site, merely twenty feet above.

Dozens of Peregrine Falcons have been successfully hacked here for years. Climbers have no qualms with these glorious birds of prey who just happen to be a non-native species that was de-listed as "Threatened and Endangered" in 1999.

Each of  these raptors must kill and consume over 140 beautiful native songbirds each year just to stay alive...

...like this guy who is daintily nibbling on a silenced feathery morsel in an asphalt parking lot...

In fact, most folks might turn a blind eye to this, but probably not die-hard birders who flock to the New River Gorge each spring to be enamored by their sweet songs and florid colors.

The Cirque is a wonderful area for hikers and climbers alike, whose rim commands an excellent vantage for 180 degrees of clear birding upstream and downstream from Diamond Point to Ram's Head.  Now it is a federal crime to just walk the trails to this spot. In fact, there is a short list of folks who are authorized, and I heard the new NPS head wildlife biologist's name is not even on it, but the owners of the Three Rivers Avian Center's are  http://www.tracwv.org/us.html . Curiously, Three Rivers is not even a sponsor of the New's largest birding event ( http://www.birding-wv.com/ )

These wondrous peregrines who apparently must be given such a wide berth from human interaction or interference have nevertheless been anthropomorphized by their researchers with names such as "Norris", "Ben", "Harrison" & "Ross".  Their pictures and are on the internet.  Notice what careful attention has been given to NOT interfere or molest them in any way...

...other than a permanently attached gps backpack and antenna!

Don't know about you, but if I were an anthropomorphized bird, the term "Alien Abduction" might come to mind...and if these birds can stand that amount of "handling" do you really think climbers and hikers pose a significant threat to them?

Is this a justified closure of a public resource, especially for a non-native species that has been de-listed for ten years?

 The only likely reason these birds are returning here is because they were hacked here and had an excellent food source: quail eggs hand-fed to them by human beings.

But there is the story from several years ago about our official state animal, the bear, which (or should I say "who") is a native species that  that caught the wafting aroma of these very eggs and thought he found a sweet new food source.

...but this native bear  posed a threat to these non-native peregrine chicks...so the solution was to kill it. They don't like to talk about that one at all...can't even find mention of it via a brief google search, although it did happen. The NPS did post a "Bear Warning" sign near the top of the Miner's Ladders along the Endless Wall rim trail near the hack boxes...the only sign of its kind I have seen anywhere.

So if you have a comment, complaint, or compliment about the closure, please email the New River Gorge NPS assistant superintendent Deborah_Darden@nps.gov

Blog by: porter jarrard
OffLine Milky "Dad-Bod" Williams
  2009-05-04 14:40:42    
But why would they close the Cirque?  I mean we spent weeks down there over the winter with loud power drills, large groups of people, etc.  The birds seemed to love us.  They actually chose their nesting site as we watched them from the cliffside.  Don't Peregrine's thrive in cities like New York, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta.....
Peregrine closures have become an accepted part of the climbing world.  Nobody wants to speak out against them for fear of looking like a nature-hating A-hole.  The birds are amazing creatures and we all love them but the closures are unwarranted! Also I heard the backpacks are hardwired directly into their souls and make it impossible for the birds to go to heaven. 
OffLine Will Niccolls
  2009-05-04 18:02:46    
Sorry you had to abandon your gear, though I suggest that was a risk you accepted by leaving it there. It turns out that peregrines are in fact a native species, by the way.  http://www.epa.gov/EPA-SPECIES/1999/August/Day-25/e21959.htm http://www.wvdnr.gov/Wildlife/RETSpecies.asp The closure may seem unnecessary if you've happened to see these impressive birds, seemingly unafraid nor bothered by humans, but during nesting season they are fiercely territorial, and if they perceive risk they won't nest and reproduce during a critical time window.  Once they choose not to do so, the nest will be abandoned until the next year. During cool months they migrate south.   You can climb all you want at that time.  Falcon closures are a given now--they are common out west.  Climbing has become enormously popular and some compromise is necessary with other stakeholders. We've had our playground, and in most cases haven't treated it very respectfully.  Now the piper gets paid. Will
OffLine Kenny Parker
  2009-05-05 00:33:35    
I think there are more issues here than just the birds. They are actually not listed as native in West Virginia and I think the handling of this issue is part of the trouble. Songbirds, bear, climbers, hikers, local commerce all need to be considered because they are all affected. The PR on this has been mishandled as the general feel in the climbing community is that it smells like someone's pet project. The birding festival, the new river rendezvous, and other events and activities which enhance the area for all are suffering because of this closure  The National Park Service has been a great supporter of the climbing community here at the New River Gorge in the past and I expect there will be an agreeable solution to this for the long term. But, I do feel some re-thinking of the peregrine/ climber closure dogma is necessary. DDT was the culprit and not encounters with humans that led to the bird's decline.Banning all but a few to a significant area of the gorge in peak season when there is no science to support it is interpreted as bad management. Multi use management is key in areas like ours. There is absolutely no history of pristine anything around here since it has been battered by every resource extraction industry out there to fuel the rest of this country. Now we have an industry (outdoor recreation) which is very conservation based and sustainable. Let's try and manage wisely so it flourishes and is around in a strong way to provide support on a national level for agencies like the NPS.
OffLine Tom Helvie
  2009-05-05 04:41:48    
Birds are lame.
OffLine Milky "Dad-Bod" Williams
  2009-05-05 14:57:40    
Will stated: We've had our playground, and in most cases haven't treated it very respectfully.  Now the piper gets paid. You're missing the mark Will.  No one has been more cooperative in the Peregrine program than the local climbing community.  When the program started years ago Matt Varner, NPS biologist, assured the community that no closures would ever take place.  Local climbers and NRAC have been very cooperative.  Three years ago climbers helped secure the hacking boxes to the cliff top using their own climbing gear and rigging skills!  This closure has been a stab in the back to the community. What we need to emphasize is the unique resource that is the Cirque.  Chris Lindner isn't the only one that has been bummed about the closure.  World class climber Tobias Wolf flew over from Germany specifically to climb the routes in the Cirque.  Upon his arrival he too was 'dismayed' and left for other areas.  It just drives home how special and unique that area is.  People fly halfway around the world to get to it.  While there are multiple Peregrines and many nesting areas along the 30+ miles of cliffline in the region, there is only one Cirque.  There is only one Proper Soul in the whole world! Climbers have done more to restore and preserve this area than anyone and I assure you that climbers have more respect and love for this region than anyone else.  It's not that the community wants to see the birds "fail" but mismanagement of the program has begun to create a rift in the excellent relationship between the park and the climbing community. 
OffLine Harrison Dekker
  2009-05-06 02:36:31    
Pffft. You're just pissed that, unlike me, they didn't name a peregrine after you.
OffLine Sebastian Fernandez-Pol
  2009-05-06 15:52:08    
I would agree with you that it would be nice to receive warning prior to a cliff closure, but having a cliff closed for part of the year is not that big of a deal, no matter how good the crag.  Better than losing access entirely.  It would seem reasonable to discuss the matter with the NPS to understand why the closure occurred, but you haven't made a clear argument for why you think the is unnecessary.  You're kind of just whining that Chris Linder and others weren't able to climb when they wanted.  I would hope we place more importance on preserving species than climbing a few routes.
OffLine PEEJ
  2009-05-06 16:57:20    
The climbing community has been very involved with NPS here for over fifteen years....you missed the point which is: why has the NPS apparently turned this area over to a couple of non-credentialed folks who run a bird hospital and not to their own bonafide scientists. Again: the birds were de-listed as T&E in 1999 and WV is not even considered a native habitat. These birds were brought in by DNS as an effot to control the pigeon problem on the NRG bridge many years ago, but with little success. Later, the it got spun into a hacking program with no real hope of the released peregrines ever returning here. We hav a fluke that one returned. A nesting situation. Why is it so important to overly-protect this one errant nest?
OffLine Tom Helvie
  2009-05-06 17:56:16    
If the birds BMI is >17, close the cliff and let it nest.  If not shoot it and remove it from 8a.
OffLine Milky "Dad-Bod" Williams
  2009-05-06 18:02:38    
Sebastian wrote: I would hope we place more importance on preserving species than climbing a few routes. I agree Sebastian, however, the key word here is 'preservation'.  Peregrines are a non-native species.  You can't 'preserve' something that never existed.  They never thrived here due to the thick tree cover covering their hunting grounds and the large owl population that eats their young.  I'm a wholehearted supporter of helping the Peregrines reclaim the areas they once inhabited.  I'm also concerned about the Snow Leopard.  Perhaps we should begin a reintroduction program in the Motherlode of the Red River Gorge.  The helpless skinny-legged sport weenies would be an easy food source for these noble creatures.  Who cares if they never lived around there.  Something must be done! 
OffLine Sebastian Fernandez-Pol
  2009-05-07 15:47:49    
Alright, if Peregrines are non-native, then I would think you have a strong enough point.  In addition, a closure of the area should require ample warning time beforehand.  I think the original post would more effectively get support if you started with the important facts and not some asinine story about a famous climber not being able to climb a route.  If you gave some links to reputable sources that would help your point, I would likely sign a petition to get the closure at least reviewed.
OffLine PEEJ
  2009-05-07 21:51:48    
>>>Please read the blog from the "blog" on my "8a page" not on the "forum" page.  There are clickable links to sources on that one. That version has been updated for facts and clarity...I do not know why it does not or has not updated on the "forum" page.<<<<<
OffLine Milky "Dad-Bod" Williams
  2009-05-07 23:52:00    
Sebastian, I understand your confusion.  It has taken me a long time to really understand the situation.  Let me try to simplify it:
The idea behind the hacking boxes in the Cirque.....Peregrines nest mostly under bridges and on buildings throughout the East.  When biologists find that a 'fledgling' baby bird was born under a bridge they capture it.  This is a good idea because it is likely that during it's first flight it will get hit by a car!  They bring it to the New and place it in a hack box and feed it, hoping that it will have a better chance of survival.  When it is ready, it takes flight and leaves.  Most never come back, in fact none have ever come back until now.  Some of these birds are equipped with GPS backpacks so that biologists can track their progress and behaviors.  These backpacks are what help them find the babies in the first place.  You can see their detailed migratory patterns at http://www.ccb.wm.edu/vafalcons/falcontrak/falcons_active.htm   or you can learn more about the program at www.tracwv.org   Once the birds have left the New, like I said, they never come back.  They travel south all the way to Florida sometimes for the winter and back north to Pennsylvania, New York, etc.  At some point in the spring they find a mate, build a nest under a bridge or on a building and make babies.  It is obvious that since nearly every nesting pair does this that human interaction is not a problem.  One particular pair, out of the 60 or so that have been released over the last few years, decided to return to the New.  Most likely because they remembered the ample food supply that was hand fed to them.   The Cirque was closed to 'protect' them.  The numerous other birds are out there dodging cars and living on buildings with no closure to protect them because it is impossible to shut down the city and it simply is not necessary.   The reality is that these birds have made a mistake.  They returned to an area that is not suitable habitat.  There is a poor natural food supply and their young face destruction by natural predators.  The truth is that scaring these birds off would probably help them to realize they are in an unsuitable area.  It is a disservice to both the climbing community and the birds themselves. Personally I love the fact that they returned.  I spent weeks in the Cirque watching them fly in awe of their natural ability.  They can dive at speeds of 200+ miles per hour!  They are amazing creatures that should be witnessed by climbers and birders.  Closing the area has created a contrived environment that is actually not natural.  These birds will have to face humans throughout their lives and as the other Peregrines have proven:  Human interaction is not a problem.    This of course is my own personal opinion based strictly on what I have read on the above linked websites as well as some others.  I would love to hear an actual biologist's standpoint as the current situation makes no sense to me.
OffLine Sebastian Fernandez-Pol
  2009-05-08 17:30:16    
So is there any way to build these hack boxes at cliffs that have little to no value for climbers?  It seems like that would appease both parties. 
OffLine Will Niccolls
  2009-05-12 01:39:39    
Kenny, Postmaster, thanks for clarifying.  With that perspective I understand why you'd be dismayed at this decision.   Stepping back with some perspective I still the closure itself as mostly a non-issue.   It's more concerning that they'd violate the trust of the relationship that's been built up over the years and I hope it gets worked out.  Yes, they should have given more notice. People keep repeating that they are non-native--I've posted references that indicate otherwise--these creatures have a large and varied range from what I understand.  I'd be glad to read references that claim otherwise.  Until then this seems like a non-issue.
I've seen climbers claim before that the falcons don't mind humans but all the scientists I read seem to disagree.  If they are wrong we need facts and references!
I know Porter likes the role of instigator and that can be valuable--but his post risks drips with sarcasm and risks being seen as selfish--why put the relationship with the feds at further risk with such a tactic?  Let's see some facts and look past the heartbreak of having your gear abandoned and the temporary loss of these testpieces.
OffLine betty church
  2009-05-12 04:37:31    
your link/s do not state the peregrine falcon, a cosmopolitan bird of prey, are native to wva...rather a broad statement ...they are native to the usa, and lets add if people would like know, all continents except antartica. "Peregrine falcons are found in 41 of the 50 U.S. states. They do not
breed in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi,
Oklahoma, South Dakota or West Virginia. " http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/PRESSREL/06-57.htm The monitoring regions for the southeast is as follows ( note: wva is not on the list): GA, KY, NC, SC, TN   http://www.fws.gov/endangered/pdfs/peregrin/peregrineplan2003.pdf   (scroll 14 out of 60 on the pdf)