Thursday, April 07, 2016

Debate Reignites Over Mountain Bikes in Wilderness Areas

The age-old debate over whether mountain bikes should be allowed in designated wilderness areas is heating up again as new legislation is expected to surface in Congress over the next month seeking to change the bedrock environmental law. A national mountain-biking group called Sustainable Trails Coalition has drafted a bill — the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2015 — that would give local land managers, such as U.S. Forest Service supervisors, the ability to decide whether riders can use sections of trail in designated wilderness areas, whether for recreational riding or for trail maintenance and other work using wheeled tools. The debate over bikes in protected wilderness has intensified in the decades since 1984, when the Forest Service explicitly outlawed “mechanized transport” in those areas. The original Wilderness Act of 1964 stated, “there shall be … no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no land of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” At the time, mountain biking was unheard of; yet by 1984 the sport was in its infant stages as a growing popular activity, and Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups convinced the Forest Service to broaden the wilderness prohibition from motorized to mechanized transport, effectively outlawing bikes. Today, the popularity of mountain biking has ballooned — an estimated 40 million people participate in the activity annually, according to a survey by the Outdoor Industry Foundation. At the same time, the amount of designated wilderness has grown to over 109 million acres across the U.S., including over 3.4 million in Montana. Last week, as the bill awaits a sponsor in Congress, a group of 116 conservation organizations from across the U.S., including 13 from Montana, published a letter asking lawmakers to reject any proposed changes that would allow bikes in the wilderness...more

No comments: