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Rock-climbing spot in Angeles National Forest to stay closed because of frogs, wildfire [Updated]

December 22, 2009 |  1:38 pm

FROG The temporary closure of a popular rock-climbing spot in the Angeles National Forest has been extended for another year to protect an endangered frog species inhabiting the area, officials said today.

Damage to the forest from the Station fire, which has increased the risk of mudslides, has made that area an even more crucial habitat for the frog, authorities said.

About 1,000 acres north of Angeles Crest Highway, including Williamson Rock, were closed in 2005 because of the presence of the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog. The area included a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, which had to be rerouted. [Updated at 12 p.m. Dec. 23: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the trail as the Pacific Coast Trail.]

Officials had hoped to open the area soon, but U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Bob Blount said those plans were dashed by the Station fire. Now that other parts of the forest are in danger of mudslides, the area around Williamson Rock could become one of the few viable habitats for the frog, which is native to parts of California and Nevada, he said.

“Williamson Rock is a wonderful rock-climbing opportunity, and as a district ranger nothing would please me more than to get one of the jewels of the forest open again,” Blount said. “Unfortunately, because of the confluence of the issues, that’s simply not possible.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has relocated some frogs out of the area, and officials hope to repopulate other sites in the spring, Blount said. Several agencies will review the process as officials try to balance the desire for access with the need to protect the amphibians, he said.

The extension came as no surprise to Troy Mayr, president of Friends of Williamson Rock.

“We’re supportive inasmuch as we’re working to come up with a solution to reopen the area,” he said.

Williamson Rock has climbs ranging from 30 feet to 300 feet at varying degrees of difficulty, he said.

“It’s exceptionally popular,” he said. “It’s the single most popular summer climbing spot in ... Southern California, so it’s a huge loss.”

Before the closure in 2005, which did not affect that year’s climbing season, Mayr estimates thousands of climbers visited the site each season. Mayr and his group are hopeful a solution will be found in 2010.

-- Raja Abdulrahim

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Photo: Vance Vredenburg / Center for Biological Diversity