Bikes in the wilderness

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Bikes in the wilderness

Post by venturefar » Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:04 am

Text copy and pasted from ... t-to-allow

H.R. 1349 – Restoring the Original Intent of the Wilderness Act to Allow Bicycles in Wilderness Areas
December 13, 2017 Press Release
The House Natural Resources Committee today voted to pass H.R. 1349 by Congressman Tom McClintock. The bill would restore the original intent of the Wilderness Act to allow bicycles and other forms of human-powered locomotion in wilderness areas at the discretion of local land managers.

Bicycles were originally permitted in wilderness areas from the time Congress enacted the Wilderness Act until 1977 when federal bureaucrats began adopting blanket prohibitions against their use, closing Wilderness areas that are now equivalent to the entire land area of California.

One of the principal objectives McClintock has set as Chairman of the Sub-committee on Federal Lands is to restore public access to the public lands. The bill would restore to federal land managers the option to permit non-motorized mountain bikes, adaptive cycles, strollers and game-carts in Wilderness areas where their use is compatible with the environment, trail conditions and existing uses.

The measure is supported by the Sustainable Trails Coalition and was adopted by a vote of 22-18. It now goes to the House floor.

Congressman McClintock delivered remarks in support of the legislation at the Natural Resources committee hearing:

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for scheduling my bill, H.R. 1349 for markup. This bill was brought to me by the Sustainable Trails Coalition and advances one of the principal objectives of the Federal Lands Sub-Committee: to restore public access to our public lands.

Specifically, this bill will restore the original intent of the Wilderness Act to allow bicycles in wilderness areas. People who enjoy mountain biking have just as much right to use the public trails as those who enjoy hiking, packing or horseback riding, and our wilderness areas were never intended by Congress to prohibit human-powered mountain bikes.

In fact, a year after he signed the Wilderness Act of 1964, Lyndon Johnson said, “The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback or bicycle. For them we must have trails as well as highways.”

When the House considered the Wilderness Act in June of 1964, the record is clear that its framers intended that the term “mechanical transport” be applied to non-human-powered vehicles like motorcycles – not human-powered devices like bicycles. The Forest Service built this understanding into its original implementing regulations by explicitly allowing all forms of human-powered travel in Wilderness areas.

Bicycles were allowed in wilderness areas from the inception of the Act in 1964 until 1977, when the Forest Service reinterpreted the act to ban them. This met with a stern rebuke from Senator Frank Church, one of the key sponsors of the Wilderness Act, who protested that “the agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed.”

In 1980, Congress explicitly listed bicycling as a permissible use when it established the Rattlesnake Wilderness in Montana, and the Forest Service then rewrote its regulation for that area to allow bicycles unless the local forest manager banned them. In fact, Congress, which has sole constitutional authority over the public lands, has never voted to ban bicycle use in Wilderness areas, and its consistent precedent has been to allow them.

Many scientific studies have concluded that mountain bikes cause no more environmental wear and tear than hiking or horseback riding. A 1994 study by Wilson and Seney at Montana State University found that tires caused less erosion than hiking and horseback riding. A study at the University of Tasmania, Australia made similar findings.

Bicycles peacefully co-exist with backpacking, hiking, horseback riding and packing on any other public lands – and they did for many years in Wilderness areas. It is ludicrous to suggest that they are only incompatible in Wilderness areas – and then only since 1977.

A continuing maintenance problem in Wilderness areas is underutilized trails that disappear with disuse. Restoring bicycle access to our wilderness areas means that fewer trails will disappear over time.

In addition, trails maintenance is significantly hampered by the current ban on wheelbarrows – H.R. 1349 specifically allows them.

There has been a lot of misinformation over the effect of this bill. It only removes the current blanket prohibition against bicycles and other forms of human-powered locomotion established by bureaucratic regulation.

Let me make this very clear: It in no way interferes with the discretion provided in other regulations and laws that gives land managers the ability to close or restrict the use of trails according to site-specific conditions. These agencies have always had authority for example, to prohibit access if a trail is damaged or is incompatible with other uses, and that authority is undisturbed by this law.

We set aside our public lands, in the words of the original Yosemite Charter, for “public use, resort and recreation.” This bill restores this principle for America’s mountain bikers on our public lands.


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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by tweederjohnson » Thu Dec 14, 2017 11:05 am

My levelheaded approach:
My own personal preference is that hikers not have to share trails with cyclists for both safety and preservation of the wilderness experience. I'd hope that mine and other hikers' voices are heard in the matter and that whatever decision is made is fair, responsible and well-rationalized.

My cynical approach (and honestly, my first reaction):
Sweet. I love jumping out of the way of mountain cyclists screaming down trails like bats out of hell. :^o

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by rlown » Thu Dec 14, 2017 11:10 am

Amazing how a trekking pole can ruin a person's day when stuck through the front wheel..

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by maverick » Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:36 pm

Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member:

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by oldranger » Thu Dec 14, 2017 2:42 pm

My personal feeling is that since the mid 90's a lot of users of mechanical devices have been squeezed out of areas they traditionally used with the creation of new wilderness that in my opinion didn't really meet the criteria for wilderness. I sent a letter to my congressman suggesting that the proposed legislation should be amended to apply only to Wilderness Areas created after 1995 and also not to Wilderness areas within National Parks regardless of when they were designated. Given his political leanings I doubt he will do anything to change the legislation.

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by Tom_H » Thu Dec 14, 2017 6:18 pm

rlown wrote:Amazing how a trekking pole can ruin a person's day when stuck through the front wheel..
:D :D :D :D :D

Several times I've come close to being flattened by bikes flying down trails at 40 mph. They can be so quiet that you don't hear them 'till they're right on you.
Last edited by Tom_H on Thu Dec 14, 2017 6:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by Tom_H » Thu Dec 14, 2017 6:19 pm

oldranger wrote:Given his political leanings I doubt he will do anything to change the legislation.
He may be more inclined to sell it to the corporations that own Vail and Squaw and let them decide what to do with it.

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by wildhiker » Thu Dec 14, 2017 7:21 pm

McClintock is misinformed and spreading misinformation. I suspect he has never even read the Wilderness Act. Bicycles were NEVER intended to be used in Wilderness areas and were never legally allowed. The writings of the original authors and the eight years worth of committee hearing records before the Wilderness Act passed in 1964 show that Congress specifically intended to ban all forms of mechanized (not just motorized) travel in Wilderness areas. It is possible that bicycles were not specifically mentioned in Forest Service regulations until some years after the Wilderness Act passed, but then again, those regulations are just guidance to the local managers - the language in the law itself prevails and is very clear on this matter. I suspect that it just didn't occur to the Forest Service until 1977 that someone would try to ride a bicycle on an official Wilderness trail - after all, mountain bikes were pretty rare at that time.

As a hiker, I share the local park and open space trails with mountain bikes, but I believe they have no place in Wilderness areas, which are supposed to be kept as wild as possible.


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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by dave54 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 8:56 pm

The text of the Wilderness Act:

Sec 4
...(c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.

This bill will amend that paragraph by adding this sentence to the end:

“Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”.

What hearings and speeches were made during the Wilderness Act's history is irrelevant. What matters is the final text as passed. The phrase 'no other form of mechanical transport' is vague and undefined in the original text. Until it is defined more clearly by either legislation or judicial ruling, my interpretation of what it means is equally as valid as any other person's.

In 1964, mountain bikes were primitive compared to current technology. Many trails were unridable with bikes of that era. Today there are lightweight alloys, lower gearing, full suspension, improved tire technology, dropper posts, etc, making previously unridable terrain accessible. (As e-bikes have a motor, I am assuming they would remain banned). So, in a way, I am glad the ambiguity is being addressed even if the language is not ideal.

Odd that wheelchairs are mentioned, as they are already allowed by court rulings and the ADA (which trumps the Wilderness Act).

Several years ago, an older man would push his camping gear in a wheelbarrow into the Caribou Wilderness due to a back injury prevented carrying a backpack. When asked about this, a local FS LEO said "Are you kidding? I have no intention of citing an elderly disabled man for a wheelbarrow in a Wilderness."

Then there is the private inholding inside the Ishi Wilderness where the owners are allowed to use an ATV to access their land, but everyone else must walk. Thanks to a federal magistrate who ruled so.
Log off and get outdoors!

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Re: Bikes in the wilderness

Post by gdurkee » Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:13 pm

I'll join all here that this is an absurd proposal. Not only would bikes be an intrusion on the core nature of wilderness, but the practical nature of bikes on most Sierra trails. They're designed for the width of one person and, of course, a huge number have large sets of steps, switchbacks etc. which just make it dangers for hikers, stock users and bikes to be there at the same time. Nor can I imagine a significant percentage of bike users obeying regulations and staying on trails when the open up to meadows. Experience at Pt. Reyes show a lot of these guys have absolutely no respect for parks and regulations to maintain the integrity of trails and surrounding ecosystems.

I must take issue with the respected Sri Oldranger: wilderness is wilderness. We should not endanger the integrity or purpose of preserving anything so designated by introducing the slightest doubt as to its legitimacy. Wilderness is finite and extremely limited. Mountain bikers have huge, huge areas to pursue their sport. Now they want to take over everything else. No. My experience is there's an endless number of people who constantly want to introduce activities that diminish the wilderness experience. Opposition is one of those long twilight struggles we must continue to rise up to.

I'll add that over the years, I've given citations to two guys on bicycles. Both were walking them because the terrain was too difficult. One of them, my supervisor took their seats and said she'd meet them at the end of the trail to give them back. Darned clever supervisor... .

Not sure what stage this is at but we need to write our local Congressional rep and oppose this (mine, alas, is McClintock though we hope to defeat him in '18!).

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