Does Rock Climbing Popularity Threaten Cliff Ecosystems?

Some researchers and park managers are optimistic about the possibility of training climbers to look out for certain rare plants and help rangers collect data. Others counter that including climbing organizations in biodiversity studies could introduce bias into the results. All agree that cliff ecology is riddled with unknowns and that more cliffs need to be studied. A before-and-after study of a cliff in development as a climbing route might be a good first step, but cliff ecosystems vary widely. What applies to limestone cliffs may not apply to sandstone cliffs, and climbing may have more of an effect on some ecosystems than others. The angle of a rock face can affect the amount of moisture and light plant communities receive as well as the climbing techniques climbers use. In some places, climbers only scale a relatively narrow sliver of a large cliff, while other cliffs are covered with dozens or hundreds of climbing paths. The effects that rock climbing can have in deciduous forests such as New River Gorge may be nonissues in drier or rockier locales. (Click on title for full story.)