Mountain Bikes and Wilderness

Some of our work and positions regarding mountain bikes and wilderness areas

We believe strongly that mountain biking is an important way many people choose to experience the great outdoors, and that mountain bikers deserve access to challenging terrain and high-quality trails.

But designated wilderness is not an appropriate place for bicycles or other mechanized transport.

Bicycles can cause erosion to primitive trails, damage habitat, and disturb wildlife, which depend on wilderness areas for refuge. Allowing bicycles in wilderness areas also has the potential to increase conflict with other users. What’s more, designated wilderness areas account for just one-sixth of America’s federal public lands, leaving plenty of other outdoor space for mountain biking and other mechanized recreation.

Dozens of conservation, recreation, hunting and angling, backcountry horsemen and women, and even mainstream mountain biking organizations including the International Mountain Biking Association have pushed back on attempts to open up designated wilderness areas to wheeled and mechanized access.

Those looking for more information on this important issue should check out this excellent opinion piece in Outside Magazine: Op-Ed: 5 Lies Being Used to Get Mountain Bikes in Wilderness by writer Christopher Solomon. Perspectives from our Executive Director Mitch Friedman are also available in this September 2016 article from The Bellingham Herald.

News on bikes in Wilderness

H.R. 1349, the “Wheels Over Wilderness bill”

On December 6, 2017, House Resolution 1349, an effort to open up designated wilderness areas to mechanized transport known as the “Wheels Over Wilderness” bill, is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Hikers in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a cherished recreation area and home to wildlife from wolverines to mule deer and mountain goats. Wild places like this are too special for mechanized recreation! Photo: Chase Gunnell

This bill is a risky, short-sighted move that could jeopardize the future of our most wild places. Read more about why it should be rejected in this editorial from the Los Angeles Times

Unfortunately, this stealthy assault on the Wilderness Act is expected to pass out of committee and advance to the full House of Representatives. There are no Washington state representatives on the House Committee on Natural Resources at this time.

If H.R. 1349 does advance, we’ll share timely action alerts, ways to contact elected leaders, talking points and more information prior to a full House vote.  But the conservation community hasn’t been letting this misguided attack on wilderness move forward without strong resistance.

Building on Conservation Northwest’s years of opposition to such proposals, this past summer we joined our partners at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and 23 other NWF State Affiliate Organizations from across the country in voicing our objections to H.R. 1349. This joint letter is copied below.

National Wildlife Federation Affiliates Letter Regarding Opposition to H.R. 1349, “Wheels Over Wilderness” Bill

Re: H.R. 1349

Dear Subcommittee Chairman, Vice Chairman, Ranking Member and Members:

Our Federations collectively represent hundreds of thousands of hunters, anglers, wildlife viewers, and other conservationists across the West. We write to express our strong opposition to the referenced bill.

H.R. 1349 was introduced on March 2, 2017 by Congressman Tom McClintock, and was referred to your
Subcommittee on Federal Lands on March 17 pursuant to your jurisdiction over the The National Wilderness Preservation System. The bill seeks to amend Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(c)) with the following language: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheel-chairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”

Our organizations support appropriate bicycle access to public lands. We have worked collaboratively with mountain bikers in various aspects of resource and travel management planning to help promote and expand sustainable bicycle access alongside hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and other recreational activities. We have contributed to identification and resolution of many issues on public lands managed by federal agencies, for example, in Colorado, California, Montana and New Mexico. By working together, we have been able to ensure extensive access for bikers to public land. 98 percent of all the trails on non-wilderness public land the U.S. Forest Service manages are open to bicycles; only an estimated three percent of trails on federal public lands are located in designated wilderness areas.

The purpose of the Wilderness Act, as stated in Section 2(a), is “to assure that an increasing population,
accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition . . ..” Wilderness is described in the Act as having “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”

The Act specifies that only primitive travel by foot or horseback be allowed in designated wilderness areas, with the exception that, after the enactment of the (1990) Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), wheelchairs are permitted. It established the National Wilderness Preservation System to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

Biking bears a marked distinction from primitive outdoor recreational travel activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, and horseback riding. Biking is a mechanized mode of travel which presents several challenges to the concept of wilderness. Bicycles tend to involve far greater speed, especially in descending terrain, than the non-mechanized modes of transportation contemplated by the Wilderness Act.

Bicycles can cause erosion to primitive trails, damage habitat, and disturb wildlife, which depend on Wilderness Areas for refuge. Allowing bicycles in Wilderness Areas has the potential to increase conflict with other users.

As noted above, although the bill references wheelchairs, they have been allowed in Wilderness Areas since enactment of the ADA in 1990. Section 507(c)(1) of the ADA specifically provides that “Congress reaffirms that nothing in the Wilderness Act is to be construed as prohibiting the use of a wheelchair in a wilderness area by an individual who disability requires use of a wheelchair….” In that respect, the bill is unnecessary.

We thank you for your attention to our concerns.

Respectfully,

Arkansas Wildlife Federation – Planning & Conservation League (CA) – Connecticut Forest & Park Association – Colorado Wildlife Federation – Conservation Northwest (WA) – Delaware Nature Society – Florida Wildlife Federation – Georgia Wildlife Federation – Conservation Council for Hawaii – Idaho Wildlife Federation – Prairie Rivers Network (IL) – Louisiana Wildlife Federation – Natural Resources Council of Maine – Conservation Federation Missouri – Montana Wildlife Federation – New Hampshire Audubon – New Mexico Wildlife Federation – Association of Northwest Steelheaders (OR) – PennFuture – South Carolina Wildlife Federation – South Dakota Wildlife Federation – Texas Conservation Alliance – Virginia Conservation Network – Wyoming Wildlife Federation

Collin O’Mara, President – CEO, National Wildlife Federation