Up to a point. Not all potential climbs are in areas administered by the FS or the NPS. Regulations governing vegetation removal, trail-building, fixed anchors, power-drilling, overnight camping, fire-building, etc etc etc vary from place to place. As do local customs and consensus about what is acceptable.
What is important, at least in my view, is not to screw things up for others. So, yeah, check the land status. Find out what the regulations forbid or permit. Talk to other folks who put up routes in the area.
But remember, what is illegal (or unethical) in your corner of the woods may be legal and commendable elsewhere. And vice versa.
Steal a good looking line from someone with greater "vision" than I,
Find a stronger partner to do all the harder leading,
Place at least one bolt to "mark" the route,
Brag about the route,
Publish a guide and give my routes 5 stars so everyone knows how cool I am.
(Or so I've been told.)
Carefully choose one climbing partner, and keep the place and your activities secret for as long as you can.
That's generally been my M.O., Kevin. Based on published first ascent information, Tim Schiller and I did the first technical climbs on Fresno Dome, Little Baldy, Dogtooth Peak, Dinkey Dome, and several other small cliffs in the Western Sierra. In every case, there is no published record of our ascents, and FA's were generally credited to others. In a couple of cases, FA's were credited to others, even though I placed a bolt on the FA, either for protection or aid, and each topo shows the bolt.
We kept things secret out of laziness, though, not virtue. Nonetheless, being the first person to climb in a new area provides levels of adventure and commitment greater than any other experience I've had climbing. Partly for that reason, we have not consciously "developed" the areas we thought we pioneered, other than those two bolts. If someone else gets to experience the same isolation and adventure we had, so much the better.
Tim Schiller and I did the first technical climbs on Fresno Dome, Little Baldy, Dogtooth Peak....
John, when did you climb at Little Baldy?
EE and I went there in 1976... not a bolt in sight. We did a 4 pitch climb, using the new fangled FRIENDS and put in like 8 1/4 inchers. A few years later a crew showed up and blasted a NEW ROOT right up where we had gone. They slamed in about 35 bolts... but they were very puzzled by the 1/4 inchers they kept finding.
So to the OP. Make sure you are the FIRST before you start "developing".
If you were there in '76, you beat us by two years. We were there in '78, IIRR (which is doubtful), but I didn't see an earlier reference in the guidebook.
Our route went fairly close to the line shown as "Wigged Out" in the 1984 guide. I placed one 1/4" protection bolt on the third pitch. We saw no other signs of human activity.
Climbing with Tim had its own elements of adventure. While I was leading that pitch, Tim was on belay around the corner. I had in a string of largely psychological protection, none of which I trusted. The psychological crux came right before the bolt, though. From around the corner, Tim shouted at me, "Hey John!" I assumed he was going to tell me one or more of my alleged pro had pulled. Instead it was "Garvey just hit a home run. The Dodgers are ahead three to two!"
This was way before we started using belay devices. I decided then and there it was time for some real pro, so I broke down and placed the bolt.
it certainly satisfies when you can blame the flucking Dodgers for anything at all!
Hear, hear, Mouse! Tim used to carry a 3" X 3" X 1" transistor radio with him at all times to listen to that nefarious ball club. I took great pleasure in explaining to his daughter that more educated people root for the Giants (Tim is an MIT graduate). I have a picture of him listening to that infernal thing at Chimney Rock around 1974 or 75 (Where we, too, were disappointed to find out we weren't there first, guyman). Now if I could only find it. . .