The annual debate between area climbers and the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) over rock mining in Lost Horse Canyon has begun anew this month. Only now the issue appears to be not the Forest Service's quarry activity but the legitimacy of a verbal agreement to include climbers in the Forest Service's decision-making process.
Jimmy Pinjuv, director of the Bitterroot Climbers' Coalition (BCC), says the promise dates back to 2008, when then-Forest Supervisor Dave Bull met publicly with the BCC and several Lost Horse Canyon residents. Bull established an informal agreement, Pinjuv explains, to alert the BCC in advance of any rock mining projects.
"His statement was, 'It's still open,'" Pinjuv says, "'but we will let you know if there are any changes in the future, give you a chance to respond to that, let you know who is using it and why.'"
Bull's apparent deal left climbers surprised last year when the Forest Service opened the quarry to both Ravalli County and the state with little warning and no chance to offer feedback. The agency plans to crush 9,000 cubic yards of rock in Lost Horse Canyon this summer for its own use, and Pinjuv says there's been no dialogue between the BCC and forest officials regarding the project.
"The whole time they're not notifying anyone, not really telling anyone, and we were told we would be part of a process," Pinjuv says.
Acting BNF Supervisor Julie King, who entered the position this year, believes the problem is a matter of interpretation of Bull's statement. He was not establishing an official process, she says, but rather agreeing to mitigate any serious concerns climbers and local residents had over quarry activity.
"It was part of his intent to hear and understand their issues and concerns," King says. "He never intended for them to believe that he was thinking of closing it, that we wouldn't use it at all."
BCC is now working to emphasize recreational expansion in Lost Horse Canyon. Pinjuv says he saw roughly 18 people in the canyon during a visit two Sundays ago.
"We're trying to force them down this recreation road," Pinjuv says, "knowing that if we continue to make them acknowledge the neglected recreation, eventually they'll understand that this isn't the appropriate site."