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Are We Ready for Wilderness Lite?

Two weeks ago when I wrote the quiet trails proposal for the central Continental Divide of Montana, I left the ensuing debate with two thoughts. First, local mountain biking clubs and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) are getting very sensitive about being called anti-Wilderness, which is a great sign. IMBA seems to have moved away from opposing efforts to protect wild lands to working collaboratively with Wilderness advocates.

And second, for Wilderness advocates, it might finally be time to suck it up and push for Wilderness Lite. This new strategy could allow us to move forward and truly protect the last roadless lands in the New West.

Regrettably, Wilderness is still the “W word” to many people–except to wolf haters, I suppose, who might argue with me on that one. For a myriad of reasons, we’ve gone more than 20 years without a new designated Wilderness in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. One of those reasons, if not the major one, is that natural allies for wild land protection can’t work together for their common good.

The recent debate over the Montana High Divide Trails proposal nicely illustrates the dilemma. I went to one of the collaborative sessions for this proposal, and it was like seeing the movie Ground Hog Day for the tenth time. Almost all mountain bikers want roadless lands protected from road building and motorized abuse, but they don’t want Wilderness because agencies have made administrative decisions to prohibit bicycles in Wilderness. Instead, they want a new designation that only allows MPVs, Muscle Powered Vehicles like bicycles, horses, hikers and climbers, but bans roads and motorized recreation or wreckreation, as it’s been called.

(If agencies can create new terms and acronyms like OHVs or PFDs, I figure I can do it, too. So bring on the MPV zones.)

The rub is, Congress really hasn’t given us an alternative to Wilderness that allows all MPVs. We have several administrative alternatives, but these can change with the political winds of any administration and don’t offer lasting protection.

Wilderness advocates aren’t really pushing for Wilderness Lite or ‘little w” alternative designation that prohibits road-building and allows only non-motorized use because they know that once we get it, the political reality is there will be no more “Big W” Wilderness. Their fears are well founded, but nonetheless, it might be time for them to give up and support the creation of a new congressionally mandated MPV zones. If they don’t change course, we could easily be looking at another 20 years or more before getting any lasting protection for roadless lands, and during that time, our roadless land base will continue to shrink.

There would still be opposition, of course, but I have to believe that if all non-motorized constituencies could form a united front, we could protect a lot of our roadless lands in a hurry.

Politicians like this type of “bottom up” collaboration among user groups, so we might actually get one of them to introduce a bill, perhaps even a republican.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Bush administration might actually sign a few Wilderness bills next year, especially bills with local republican co-sponsors. And there are several such bills in the hopper right now, but none for Idaho, Montana or Wyoming, where no republican or democrat in Congress is championing roadless land protection, a far-too-common theme that needs to change.

It would be even better, I suppose, to have the motorized users involved in these bottom-up collaborations, but the goals are so polarized instead of so similar that it makes compromise so difficult. Instead, we probably need designated motorized areas.

The other way out of the debate with mountain bikers is to allow them in Wilderness. Whenever I say this, my Wilderness advocate friends almost have coronaries, but there is at least a valid argument that the Wilderness Act doesn’t really ban mountain bikes. The modern mountain bike barely existed and certainly wasn’t widely used when Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964. Even though the Wilderness Act doesn’t even contain the word, bicycle, government agencies wrote administrative rules banning bicycling in Wilderness and steadfastly refuse to reconsider this administrative policy.

Some hikers worsen the problem with their attitude toward mountain biking on single-track trails. Most if not all hiking and Wilderness groups oppose any change in the Wilderness Act or related administrative rules to allow mountain biking, and some are blatantly anti-mountain biking, even in non-Wilderness hiking areas.

A few years ago, I did a shift on the Board of Directors of the American Hiking Society, and I was surprised by the attitude of key staffers and fellow board members. Basically, the feeling is that mountain bikers are dangerous and obtrusive to the hiking experience when riding on single-track trails shared with hikers.

I take the opposite view. I own a mountain bike, but it has street tires on it and has never been on a single-track. While hiking, I’ve encountered many mountain bikers. Not once have I seen a problem or had a conflict. Even in two areas in Montana used extensively by both hikers and mountain bikers, the Mount Helena area near Helena and the Rattlesnake area near Missoula, the two groups peacefully co-mingle.

I know there are exceptions, and I’m sure I’ll get a comment or two from people who have had a bad experience. But there are always some conflicts, even between hiking groups or backcountry horsemen. We can’t set policy and establish our attitudes on what one thoughtless mountain biker might have done somewhere. We shouldn’t manage for the extreme. I see no reason hikers, horses and mountain bikers can’t share single-track trails–and join hands in support for protecting our roadless lands.

I also hear talk of resource damage from mountain bikers, but that seems like a shallow argument. I suspect the environmental impact is similar if not less than hiking, and definitely minuscule compared to resource destruction from motorized use of trails, which is the real alternative we face if non-motorized users don’t form a pact and work together to protect their common ground.

There is at least one precedent for the Wilderness Lite concept, a National Scenic Area, created by Congress last year as part of the type of collaboration I’m proposing between wilderness advocates and mountain biking groups in Virginia. Perhaps this can spread to the New West and bring an end to the seemingly endless Wilderness debate.

Footnote: Over the past three years, I’ve devoted a lot of space to the issue of natural allies for wild land protection, so along with this column, I compiled A Natural Allies Chronology, just in case you want to read more.

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  1. Good article, well thought out and reasonable.

    As a mountain biker, racer, and enthusiast, I am against bikes in Wilderness Areas, but would like to see roadless areas more diligently protected. Having said that, I would like to see horses and cows removed from wilderness areas, but I know that ain’t gonna fly.

    We all have conflicts occasionally, even the most diligent mountain biker moving at a reasonable speed will come around a blind corner some day and be face to face with a horse. Try as you might, an immediate stop may still spook the horse, a dangerous situation for the rider.

    But above and beyond that, its the horse droppings that really get to mountain bikers, and the perception that horse riders are exempt from cleaning up after themselves. I am pretty tired of having fresh droppings flipped up into my face and chest while riding. I would like to hear a reasonable discourse on why, on public trails, can’t horses wear ‘diapers’ like the mounted police horses do in the cities. Its common courtesy – you clean up after your dog, why cant they clean up after their horse?

  2. I too appreciate the Wilderness areas but do not agree with Sinjin on removal of horses from these areas. As far as I know, cows are not allowed in the wilderness and I have never seen one there.

    Many areas in the Frank Church would not be accessible with out the help of horses. They have been instrumental in building trails. They have been used to haul supplies to lookouts(no longer used) and the many camps and ranches. During the blowout on the Salmon River 2 summers ago, horses were used to portage rafts and supplies around the obstruction in the river.

    Much of Sinjin’s concerns with horses and MTB interface never happens in the wilderness areas. As Wild Bill wrote the best and quickest way to protect more land would be a united front from MPV’s(isn’t that a Mazda).

    I will be going to the Middle Fork for an elk hunt for this next week to enjoy its splendor- by horseback.

  3. I sense that the camel’s nose is rather large on this issue!

    “Wilderness advocates aren’t really pushing for Wilderness Lite or ‘little w” alternative designation that prohibits road-building and allows only non-motorized use because they know that once we get it, the political reality is there will be no more “Big W” Wilderness.”

    Not only that, but there will be immense pressure to downgrade “Big W” Wilderness to wilderness lite. During the 70’s, the consensus was to try to manage the whole wilderness system to the highest standards possible, not open the door for half-baked wilderness. Lots of motorized interest groups would love to tear up the prohibition on mechanized access.

    Once the camel is in the tent, expect all manner of beasties to follow.

  4. A couple of points –
    1. Yes, cows are allowed in wilderness – all existing grazing rights were grandfathered into the Wilderness Act due to how widespread grazing was and still is, an unfortunate political necessity. See to see a good overview of this issue and the detrimental nature of grazing on wild lands.

    2. I tend to agree about horses – their impact is far greater than foot or bicycle traffic – case in point the Wind River Range – duplicate trails across high alpine meadows, droppings along the shores of alpine lakes etc. This, of course, stems mostly from commercial operations with long strings of horses and not so much from individual users.

    3. Nonetheless, mountain biking should not be allowed in all wilderness – although it is non-motorized – I see wilderness as a place for peaceful meditation, and as much as I enjoy mountain biking, this it does not provide. You are simply moving too fast and generally not appreciating the scenery and natural character of an area as much when on a bike.

    Designating mountain bike trails to exclude ORVs is important and should be addressed on the ground in negotiations with alternatives such as National Scenic Areas allowing flexible management or cherry stems for strictly non-motorized MPV recreation. Dictating this from the top down as “wilderness lite” in Congress could lead to too many lands being open to mountain biking.

  5. Bill Schneider nailed it with this article, IMO.

    Bikes in W areas? Horses in W areas? Uses of both should be evaluated based on the suitability of the specific trails in question. A good example is the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire. The entire region is criss-crossed with trails that are former logging railroad beds. Mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians could peacefully coexist without any resource damage. Instead we have an arbritrary ban on bicycles because some beaurocrats decided they don’t fit the definition. Ted Stroll’s fine research indicates just the opposite is the case.

    Why can’t peaceful meditation occur on a bike? It is true that bikes tend to move one faster than when on foot, but this just allows one to get further into the woods.

  6. Bravo Bill. I’ve had this argument often with MWA, especially in light of the damage done to trails by horses mucking through mud. Long live MPV! (Or at least check out the W legislation to see if it REALLY bans bikes).

  7. Mountain bikes and wilderness really don’t mix. The entire concept of wilderness is to get out and experience the land on its own terms, with a minimum of crutches and contraptions. There are certainly other designations (National Conservation Area, National Recreation Area, etc.) available to protect areas and allow mountain biking without eroding the precept of Wilderness.

    There is currently a bill before Congress to enact the current Roadless Rule into federal law, which would certainly go a long way toward a protection of roadless areas that both hikers and mountain bikers can support.

    Perhaps Wild Bill got bitten by the mountain bike promotion bug while marketing all those mountain biking guides as the owner of Falcon Press.

  8. in the deserts and dry foothills of Utah, mountan bikes eat up the trails by creating a water runoff ditch that leads to much more trail damage and eventually to runnoff causing stream degradation. The problem with bikes is not soltude or problems with other users, but it is about ecoogical damage resulting from the use on single tracks. I suspect overuse from horses can do the same, but it doesn’t take too many passes by bikes to begin the destruction and then the rut takes on a life of its own and requires a trail team to install beaks and prevent accelleration of the damage. In a Wilderness Area or on just a nice trail, mountain bikes can be a disaster. Mountain bikes are not low impact and require good trail design and maitenance.

  9. Well I am sure the idea of enjoying “nature lite” would certainly be popular. Acually having to interact with nature without the intermediary of some kind of technology seems really archaic; I’m sure Aldo Leopold and John Muir would be pounding down trails on their bikes or ATV were they alive today. Walking is annoying; you keep seeing and noticing things; distracts you from your workout. Actually having to put ones feet on the ground and move slowly over the ground doesn’t provide much of a thrill. Of course should be able to use ATVs also, just have a special lower power variety to use in the “wilderness diminished” or “wilderness demeaned” areas (better term than wilderness lite).

  10. Bill, Bill, Bill — you are being taken in by yet another mountain biker ruse. MPV’s? My foot! Why should we have to settle for small “w” wilderness areas because a few wheeled locusts wish to rip up their muscle powered (and sometimes — up British Columbia, Canada way — electric powered) mountain bikes.

    Many, on foot, “muscle powered” hikers and other classical users of the forest have compromised too much already to the wheel locusts of the woods, whether recreational ATV’s, ORV’s, or “MPV’s”!

    Give me a break already! All those wreckreational vehicles on wheels have no “rights” inside our forested, or other wildlands. There are too many abuses by extreme sports on wheels inside our wild places. British Columbia has passed a tough “mudbogging law” with hefty fines for people who run roughshod in the wetlands.

    It seems people on wheels in the wilderness seem to leave their brains at home and neglect to think about the damage they are doing to it. Ditto the “MPV” mountain bikers. Don’t be fooled by “imitations”. It’s all a shameful scam by IMBA and the rest of the OVR lobbyists.

    Our shrinking, fragile natural environment should not be compromised. Wheels and tires do not belong on our forest trails. Our forests are not amusement parks. We are not in there for a “GameBoy” or “X-Box” thrill!

    Stand Strong for Big “W” Wilderness, Bill. Don’t back down from what you really believe.

    Thank you.

  11. Before they got caught up in the land frauds perpetuated by the US Govt., the Nez Perce had livestock on their lands. There is a livetock census of their holdings prior to their War for over 20 years, and it showed they held 20,000 or more head of horses and cattle at any given time, with the exception of one year when they lost thousands of horses to the Crow people while on their annual buffalo hunt to Montana.

    I have to wonder how the Nez Perce would have reacted to some hikers bitching about their horse muffins on the trail, after 5 thousand or more horses had been trailed by the hikers. Was it Wilderness when they were using their version of the Interstate for their interstate commerce?

    I also would have to giggle when I think about a bunch of Yahoo mountain bikers running into the livestock herd and a whole lot of hard working people freighting meat back home on the same trails.

    There were people here before mountain bikes, gortex and aluminum. They used beasts of burden, and I have a feeling their trails would not meet some USFS trail use guideslines. All of this use/non use stuff is only relative to the times, the perceptions of the people here now, and does not really have anything to do with the environment not being used by people, and the old saw about being untrammeled by the hand of man (which I believe means that man will not restrain that land by imposing development). It appears that today, the land and its uses are determined by the personal preferences of some Federal judge who can pretty much impose whatever he or she wants from the bench since there is no real leadership on the law by Congress.

  12. Thanks, Bill, for this fine and dispassionate essay. You’re urging that pragmatism replace ideology, and that’s the right approach.

    I urge you and those who are viewing this thread to read Bryan Caplan’s compelling new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter. Caplan addresses the cost of doctrinaire adherence to any particular worldview, a cost that, naturally, increases the more that worldview deviates from reality. After quoting Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) as noting that “science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition” (p. 12), Caplan proceeds to an economic analysis of what he views as human beings’ preferences for one set of received beliefs over another: “The more incorrect your beliefs, the more poorly tailored your actions are to actual conditions. What is the full price of ideological loyalty? It is the material wealth you forego [sic] in order to believe.” (P. 17, footnote omitted.)

    How does this tie into Wilderness? Leave aside for now any discussion of whether the Wilderness Act of 1964 allows mountain biking in Wilderness (although, as I explained in my law review article, I think it almost inescapable that it does). What would be the practical effects of allowing mountain biking in Wilderness? The following seem likely: (1) only a subset of trails would attract mountain bikers, (2) of that subset, only a subset of trails are sufficiently visited that conflict of any kind could conceivably arise (indeed, I hear that many Wilderness trails are growing over for lack of use and maintenance), and (3) of that subset, federal agency rules already allow the trails to be managed to provide a Wilderness-quality experience for all visitors. So, viewed pragmatically, the cost to Wilderness purists of tolerating mountain biking in Wilderness approaches zero.

    But what is the cost to those same purists of doggedly adhering to the obdurate, quasireligious, and not empirically well-founded view that the presence of any mountain bikes anywhere in Wilderness, no matter how seldom they are seen and no matter how unobtrusive they are as a practical matter, profanes what to them are outdoor cathedrals? It is this: increased difficulty in establishing new Wilderness areas and the possibility that areas that would receive Wilderness designation were it not for their opposition will eventually be used for roads, resource extraction, and the like. Caplan refers to the material cost forgone, whereas here it’s a loss of land preservation. But the point is the same.

    Again, thank you for an excellent essay on this topic. May federal agency rules soon conform to the Wilderness Act of 1964 and allow mountain biking under reasonable conditions in Wilderness so that we can all concentrate on what unites us rather than what divides us.

  13. Thank you Bill, for finding the middle ground! The strife between mountain bicyclists and wilderness groups here in Montana is reaching the boiling point. I consider you a vanguard of the Wilderness movement, which you usually are, and it is so refreshing to hear a moderate viewpoint come forth from your keyboard.

    One year ago I had a talk that went nowhere with our local Wilderness representative, who stated that maybe I wanted “Wilderness Lite”. I told her it would be a good idea, and you could call it just that, “Wilderness Lite”. That way the original wilderness act wouldn’t be compromised by encroaching changes. The two acts could live side by side, being appropriately applied as the case required. She about choked on my idea.

    Bicyclists ride on singletrack in wild places because it is appropriate, it is easy on the land, it often just feels right. Some people must ride bikes to visit places because of back and foot issues impeding their ability to hike. And not everyone can afford a horse, which is probably a good thing.

    We are in the roadless lands and everywhere else possible because we aren’t allowed in Wilderness. The trend here in Montana National forest planning is to eliminate bikes from where they have been always allowed. More than 50 recommended wilderness areas are currently proposed, the majority of these are summer alpine destinations for bicyclists. Bicycles are appropriate because they are clean and quiet, can be used for improving health, well being, hunting, picnics, social gatherings, etc. They are the wave of the future and need to be accommodated fairly on wild public lands. Bicyclists are frustrated in their attempts to protect lands by wilderness advocates, so we really do need to find ways to all work together. Wilderness Lite could be a viable answer, and I believe that Wilderness has a place alongside it.

  14. “The rub is, Congress really hasn’t given us an alternative to Wilderness that allows all MPVs.”

    For starters, there are National Recreation Areas that have been established that would provide you something similar. Also, there have been failed wilderness bills in Idaho that contained special management areas that were something like wilderness lite. SMAs were proposed to deal with issues other than mountain bikes. Trouble is, interest groups opposed them because there concepts departed from a pure wilderness bill.
    This essay appears to demonstrate that the thinking is evolving.

  15. Well, Schneider, you’re entitled to your opinion and I suppose that I must concede, much to my distaste, that this essay offers a justifiable perspective on the discourse; but, I’m afraid that, with this essay, you honestly do forfeit any genuine right to your pseudonym. From now on, no more “Wild Bill;” you have now earned the title “Not Really Too Wild Bill” and, when I think of you, I won’t again be able to imagine you in honorable flannel, oiled canvas, and boots. I’m horrified to say that my mind’s eye will see you shaving your body hair and wriggling into those clingy little spandex tights in preparation for your next jaunt through the woodlands and meadows. It’s an ugly image, Schneider, very ugly.

  16. To Forest Guardian, Mike, Moose Man:

    I am insulted by your comments. You speak as though mountain bikers are uneducated, unfriendly, unrespectful, un-environmental, and on and on. I happen to be a mountain biker myself. I am educated(two college degrees in Engineering) and I care very much about the environment and respect the trails and all it’s users. I could go on with my credentials but what’s the point.

    In addition to mountain biking I enjoy a nice hike, cross-country ski, trail run, backpacking, and so much more. If I could afford a truck, trailer, and horse I would enjoy the trails that way too. I believe very much in fair and mixed use as long as the trails are respected.

    I do not understand your view point one bit. Mountain bikes do not damage trails as you say. In fact, I would say mountain bikers are some of the first people to volunteer to repair maintain trail around Bozeman. The one statement that I really do not understand is how you claim that mountain bikers do not have the “right” to use trails. Were did you come up with this idea. Do you personally own the trails? No you don’t, we all do. If you can’t submit a comment with out insulting a group to make yourself feel better please spare us. If you don’t live in the state you are trying to control or have never used the trails here you have no “right” to say who can and can’t use the trails. I am tired of people on the coasts that never even set foot in Montana trying to control our public lands.

  17. Where have you been, Bill? Environmentalists have explained countless times exactly why we don’t want bikes off of pavement! Mountain biking is one of the most destructive activities ever allowed in natural areas. It accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail,
    drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and (worst of all) teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT? Nor is mountain biking acceptable on dirt roads: the laws of physics and biology are IDENTICAL on dirt roads and trails. For the science on mountain biking impacts, see

    Maybe you would get farther if you would tell the truth. Mountain bikers ARE allowed in Wilderness! Only BICYCLES are banned. Why aren’t mountain bikers willing to enjoy Wilderness the same way everyone else does: ON FOOT? I have never heard an explanation for that mystery. Obviously, mountain bikers are capable of walking. . . .

    And the environmental impact of mountain biking is MUCH GREATER than that of hiking. The difference is easy to see. Besides travelling at much greater speed, and thereby causing much greater erosion, mountain bikers also travel several times as FAR as hikers. Just listen to their ride announcements. How many people can HIKE 25-50 miles in a day?!

  18. Great article. I think you are right, that the more advocates we have limiting growth and roads in proposed wilderness is a good thing. I think the whole mtn biker hiker problem is overblown.

  19. Nice article. It’s depressing though to read so many comments from people who hate mountain bikes for no reason. Numerous studies have been done and all have the same result. A hiker and a mountain biker have roughly the same impact on a trail. Horses have an impact mulitple times a hiker or biker. If you care about the state of the trails, you should be encouraging people to switch from horses to bikes.

    A study done in New Zealand found that negative attitudes among hikers were common only among those who had NEVER encountered a mountain biker on the trail. Among those who had, negative attitudes were rare. The fact is, people co-exist very well when given the chance.

    To Richard, who thinks mountain biking can’t be peaceful: What planet are you from? This is exactly why I mountain bike. It gets me out into the beautiful forests and mountains where it is quiet and peaceful. Those young jerks you see in commercials on mountain bikes are pretty rare. I can’t remember that last time I encountered on on the trail.

    On example of great cooperation is in Tucson. The local segments of the Arizona Trail are being built by a group that is mainly mtn bikers and equestrians. Every equestrian I have encountered has been friendly.

    Someone mentioned trenches in the Utah Desert. In Tucson there are many trail like this. It appears they have all been created by horse traffic.

    Eugene, Or – Tucson, AZ

  20. I like the idea of something like wilderness lite (or whatever other name is thought of). I am a mountain biker, and I agree that it is good to have areas preserved as wilderness. I want my children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy the mountains and forests as they have always been.

    The reason I support “wilderness lite” is that more and more areas are being proposed as wilderness and it is shrinking areas to ride. I don’t think current wilderness areas need to be opened to mountain bikes (although it would be nice). But I also don’t think access to areas currently being used and helped maintained by mountain bikers should be closed to our user group.

    An to answer Mike Vandeman’s question from his post on 10-15-07, “Why aren’t mountain bikers willing to enjoy Wilderness the same way everyone else does: ON FOOT?”, I have a bad knee. The impact on my joints from going downhill limit my ability to hike without great pain. Biking is easier on my knees because it’s not a weight bearing form of exercise.

  21. Bob, have you actually READ those “studies” that are alleged to support mountain biking? I have. Anyone who actually READS them will find out that (1) they are all written by mountain bikers (at least one in each study) and (2) in every case, they misinterpret their own data to arrive at the conclusion that they desire (the claim that mountain biking and hiking have the same impact). For example, (3) they all conveniently ignore the fact that mountain bikers travel several times as far (and as fast) as hikers, thus causing at least several times the damage.

    Joe, TOUGH. One person being disabled isn’t a good enough reason to allow millions of people to bring their large pieces of MACHINERY into Wilderness areas. Organizations for the disabled have stated that they do NOT want Wilderness made accessible. It would destroy the nature of wilderness. People go to Wilderness to experience NATURE, not man-made MACHINERY. Why not get your knee fixed, instead of destroying Wilderness just so you don’t have to walk? Besides, if you get a flat, you may HAVE to walk. If you couldn’t walk back, you wouldn’t be mountain biking.

  22. Mike,
    Seems you’ve missed the point Bill is trying to make. As hiking groups members continue to both age and decline, you are going to need other user groups to stand up and help in the fight to keep our natural lands roadless. Mountain bikers are a group both commited to sustainable trailbuilding and waiting eagerly on the sidelines to help.

  23. Since Mike V has addressed me directly, I will address his response. However, I have no intention of getting into a debate with him. Normally the best strategy is to ignore him. He has been ranting about mountain bikes for at least a decade. He has invaded and been banned from many, many bike oriented online forums. He is not taken seriously by anyone who is seen his rantings over time, even by those who hold similar views. He is simply too extreme in his views.

    Until people caught onto him, they would argue with him. He regulary harrassed people who argued with him in various ways. He would also create multiple identies online so he could post notes agreeing with himself.

    As you can see, Mike has a “Let them eat cake” attitude towards other users of the wilderness.

    For any others of you who are interested, yes, I have read the studies and I have PDFs of some. If you are interested, post a request here and I will figure out how to get them to you.

  24. I think Vandeman has once again proven Bill’s point that the polarizing rhetoric of “extremists” on both sides of the argument has prohibited real progress in accomplishing what the majority of us want- more protected, roadless land that’s safe from mining and timber harvesting and set aside for our non-motorized recreational use. If we let the argument be dominated by those like Vandeman who will not compromise under any circumstances (and on the other side, biking and motorized vehicle interests who refuse to compromise and allow any new “true” wilderness areas), we get what we’ve had for the past 20 years- no new wilderness land, and a shrinking pool of viable candidates for wilderness designation.

    We can continue with the status quo and let the fringes define the argument, but that, as Bill says, ends up doing all of us a disservice. By incorporating mountain bike and equestrian groups into the push for new protected wild land, the next major designation may only be 50% wilderness and 50% wilderness lite, but that’s 100% more land than we’ve seen protected in the last 20 years.

  25. How specious! No one is preventing mountain bikers from supporting Wilderness except the mountain bikers themselves! You’ve all known for decades that bikes aren’t allowed in Wilderness, so insisting that everyone ignore the majority and start catering to your TINY MINORITY of the population is nothing but a childish tantrum of your own making.

    Favoring keeping bicycles and other machinery out of Wilderness isn’t an “extremist” position, but the position of the MAJORITY. Mountain biking is an extreme sport, and insisting on injecting mountain biking into Wilderness is an extreme position. “Wilderness” is basically identical to “wildlife habitat”, and bicycles have never been, and never will be, a part of wildlife habitat. That is obvious to everyone but mountain bikers and other extreme recreationists (who, of course, are afraid to use their real names).

  26. I was over to see a friend whose whole outfit was incinerated by a runaway wildfire that came onto his property from the Feds last summer. The USFS has all the roads, even the paved ones, closed to prevent erosion. I would also suppose that they have not jumped through enough of their own hoops yet to remove the danger trees along the roads. That is their job, though, to protect the ruins. They not only can protect the timber from any logging at all as big W wilderness does, they can guarantee it will all be burned sooner than later because that tree destruction is “normal” and “natural.” Yep. Like death and taxes. God forbid someone took a tree away from its natural demise by bugs or fire or wind. Or salvage logged. Mercy! What a terrible thought!

    Since so many want land protected from logging, roads and development, why don’t you build the mountain bike trails in the great expanses of burns we have each year? Lots of blowdown and windfalls, burn outs and snags, all to fall and make obstacles to ride on or jump over. You can’t hurt the soil organics because the fire already destroyed them. And sometime down the road, you can have summer long work crews out to clear the logs that have resulted from bugs and rot doing their work to make the forest mighty and whole again. In your lifetime, you will always be in the sun while you ride in the burn. Ticks might be a little problem, but that can be evening entertainment: tick picking. Socialize like the primates we are. Since black is beautiful, and there will be a wonderful mosaic of differing vegetation ages, all old growth of course, and all black and dead (oh, there will be red needles for a few years as the wood borers get the few survivors), the experience should be about as wonderful as it could get. No logging, no roads, all the trees naturally dead and decaying, lots of sunlight and grand vistas. Heaven on Earth!!! What a place to ride!!!! And you don’t need wilderness desgination that will keep the bikes off the land by Federal law and intent.

  27. It is clear wilderness is a dying concept; there is little appreciation for it anymore. Glad that I got to see it back in my younger years (and I may have 2 bad knees, but still apprteciate getting out on foot. Certainly much more interest in “recreation” and little interest in wilderness. Here in jackson Hole a few years ago there was a proposal by the biking groups for a path in Teton park, which no one opposed for the most part, but a section was proposed to run across a wild pristine and wildlife rich area. All the local wildlife biologists and most of the conservationists opposed it, for which they were subjected to incredible vicious verbal abuse by the bikers; of course the proposal was warmly embraced by the NPS, under their recreation first policy. Thus I am sure it will go.

  28. I’m counting on you Wilderness Purist to kill this golden goose. Wilderness used to be about saving(?) the environment. Now it’s true ugliness is showing through. Wilderness is about “ME”, and saving the environment FROM everyone else. If you don’t hike, you are nobody.

    Look at the way you guys talk. Our every shrinking lands. Excuse me, exactly what shank? Hikers can go anywhere they want, and pursue there favorite passion, complaining! The only people loosing land are bikers and motorized users. Many of these areas suitable for Wilderness, have been used by motorized users for decades, yet there still good enough to call wilderness. BUT, we need to make them wilderness to save them from the destructive motorized users. They have drugs for Bipolar disorders.

    As for you hikers, you never litter, or wear trails down, or throw up day glow tents outside the camping area, or crap in the trees and leave toilet paper hiding behind the bushes. And, if your so human powered, why do most of you drive to hike?

    As for you horse people, your days are numbered. Nothing is more destructive (save a nuke) than a belly full of chit grass, and other noxious weeds. Noxious weeds are the gift that keep on giving. Besides, the hikers hate you.

    Wilderness isn’t perfect. Why are you allowed to bring cameras, and radios, and rubber rafts full of neoprene and plastic, and synthetic cothing, and aluminum/carbon fiber skies, and plastic explosives, and iron tools, and guns into a wilderness area. And, why do you talk about saving the animals, and not mention that hunters are killing the animals.

    So, keep up the good work divesting one group at a time. My friend is my enemy’s enemy.

  29. “The only people loosing land are bikers and motorized users.”

    Why can’t mountain bikers simply tell the truth???? You have EXACTLY the same access to Wilderness that everyone else has: ON FOOT. Why should a TINY monority of the population get privileges that no one else has? Bicycles aren’t human, and have no rights. MOUNTAIN BIKERS are human, and have EXACTLY the same rights as everyone else — neither more nor less. After 13 years of asking, I have yet to hear even ONE good reason why BICYCLES should be allowed in natural areas. Can anyone answer that? That IS the only issue.

  30. We allready have designated areas for motor vehicles. They are called roads.

  31. Why can’t bicyclist just walk.

    Because they’d be called hikers. Wouldn’t be much of a mountain biker, without a bike, or a mountain. And, because the constitution says we are all created equal. And, if you believe the literal interruption, the majority should not be allowed to dominate a minority group. A minority race, religion, blah, blah. Hikers versus everyone else became a religion a long time ago. “As we race headlong into self imposed Communism.”

    How cute, motorized is for roads. Geez, and all this time I thought OHV stood for Off Highway Vehicle. Try this one, public land is for the public, not just one elitist group. Ever notice those signs along the highway, “National Forest, Forest of Many Uses”. Try sharing some times, “Me Generation”. Besides, everyone knows roads are for hiker’s Subaru Wagons.

    So, lets ask the question again. What percentage of the National Forest should be reserved for Hikers? Too scared to answer?

  32. You continue to promote the same lie: that mountain bikers are being treated differently. Nonsense! Mountain bikers can’t take bikes into Wilderness, and neither can anyone else. We are all treated identically. If mountain bikers were being discriminated against, they would be able to sue and win. And it would have happened long ago.

    Actually, the OPPOSITE happened: a federal court agreed that there is no right to mountain bike:

    So I ask again: Can you give even ONE good reason why BICYCLES should be allowed in natural areas? I highly doubt it, or it would have happened years ago. The fact is, the presence of bicycles in natural areas CAN’T be justified. Bicycles aren’t citizens, and don’t have rights.

    “Multiple use” is irrelevant in Wilderness. Even in National Forests, it doesn’t require that any particular activity be permitted. As the judge said, ANY land manager can ban bikes from trails.

    Can you be honest enough to tell us why you INSIST on bringing your bike where it doesnt belong, since you are allowed o HIKE there any time?

  33. Simple answer: I as a citizen have the right to my opinion. If I can persuade enough citizens to agree with my viewpoint, then we have the majority, and can enact any policy we chose. The majority (in the present state of our union) sets the standard of “acceptable use”.

    Bicycles are not evil by design or purpose, they are a way to experience life, much as motorized is a life experience someone choses. I understand that you are incapable of seeing this viewpoint, although I am actually capable of seeing your view point, as long as it is limited to “special” areas, of a limited percentage of the land. And, not twisted into the majority of federal land (Which is where we headed.) IE. All un-roaded National Forest should be made Wilderness, seems to be the statements being made here. (“Roadless” is a definition that changes constantly. My 1/2 acre backyard is roadless, being an extreme example.) If Congress were to enact legislation that stated that you must crawl to experience wilderness, then those that chose to not crawl would be victims of your same logic. We still have personal choice.

    To be clear, I’m not advocating the removal of Wilderness, or any policy change as it stands. But, we already have 107 Million acres of the useless stuff, with 23 Million more up on Congress, another 80 Million that are managed as wilderness. There’s another 3 Million acres in Nevada that is being proposed also. So, at what point do Bicyclist and Motorized user get their fair share? I whole hearted believe that Bicycles and Motorized, do very little real damage, and no permanent damage. And snowmobiles do no damage anywhere there’s more than a foot of snow. I don’t believe managed tree harvesting is bad, or does permanent damage. I actually believe it’s good for the critters and the health of the forest, and the health of a Foreign Countries forests that we currently ravage.

    I seriously doubt you have hiked all 107+ Million Acres. So, I ask again, what percentage of National Lands do Hikers require?

  34. I guess you will continue refusing to answer my question, so we will have to conclude that there ARE no good reasons to allow bikes on trails. I would like to see as much wildlife habitat as possible closed to ALL humans, since we can’t survive without other species. The rest I would like to see open to everyone on an equal footing: no bikes or other large pieces of machinery. Insisting on bringing large pieces of machinery with you is unfair to the majority of trail users, and the wildlife whose home it is. It is the height of selfishness.

    Yes, bicycles aren’t evil, but some USES of bikes are evil, such as hitting someone over the head with one, running into someone with one, or ripping up wildlife habitat with one.

  35. Just got back from my weeklong elk hunt in the Frank Church and had a great time. I enjoyed it from horseback and foot. I harvested a nice bull elk and used mules for the pack out.

  36. I think I gave a very good reason why bicycles should be on trails, because I want to ride my bike on trails. And, unless your going to take away my right to vote, then I’ll keep pushing for as much freedom for bikes and motorized user as I can get. Your just a 1/300 Millionth owner of our public lands, and so am I.

    “I would like to see as much wildlife habitat as possible closed to ALL humans, since we can’t survive without other species.”

    Interesting. Super Wilderness. How could we survive with other species, if were separated from them? Then what happens when the Moose calve right next to the road, to avoid predators? Move the road. I doubt animals would benefit one bit from exclusion of humans. All you’d create is a heaven for drug grower and animal poachers. You might also get a Super backlash, some people just might say NO.

    Wilderness is just an idea, you can’t see the line from space. The animals behind the line aren’t any happier than the Elk grazing in my pasture. (Probably a lot less actually.) Wilderness can be taken away with a vote in Congress, for any excuse. Just keep disenfranchising groups. One day you may wake up to a Congressional Bill to break some Federal property up into 5 acre ranchettes, and sale it. That’d be great for the animals. Push that pendulum out as far as you can reach, and watch out for the return swing.

    You should be working to bring all groups together, to become vested in saving National Forest from brick and mortar development, not FROM responsible mechanized recreation.

  37. “I think I gave a very good reason why bicycles should be on trails, because I want to ride my bike on trails.”

    Exactly what I suspected: You can’t come up with a good reason for allowing bikes on trails, because there IS no good reason. Just because YOU WANT something is not a reason that would persuade anyone else to give you what you want. You are TOTALLY self-centered, like all mountain bikers. If you are going to persuade someone else to support you, yelling “I want it!” and throwing a tantrum when you don’t get it, just like an infant, is not designed to persuade anyone.

    Your utter ignorance about basic biology is also a good demonstration of what mountain bikers are like. You actually think that humans are good for wildlife!

    The National Forests are already protected from “brick and mortar development”. What they need protection from is abusive uses such as logging, ORVs, and mountain biking.

  38. Mike V.,

    I’ve been following this thread since it started, and as an observer up until this point, might I say: Take a look in the mirror! Plenty of people have given reasons why bicycles should be on trails. To them, the reasons ARE good. Just because you don’t agree with their opinions doesn’t make your opinion the right one.

    Seems to me “…just because YOU WANT something is not a reason that would persuade anyone else to give you what you want.” Your own words, turned around and applied to you. You are just as self-centered in this respect as you claim all of the mountain bikers to be.

    I know this won’t make an ounce of sense to you as you will only see things the way you want to, without even giving one little second of thought that just maybe, things just might not be the way you believe them to be. Don’ be so closed-minded.

    P.S. I’ve never seen a mountain biker hit someone over the head with a bike.

  39. ” Plenty of people have given reasons why bicycles should be on trails.”

    Where are they? So far, all I’ve heard is “I want to mountain bike”. That wouldn’t impress anyone, even your mother! …

    “I’ve never seen a mountain biker hit someone over the head with a bike.”

    That is just an example. However, I HAVE seen a mountain biker deliberately run into a hiker, simply because the hiker informed him that the trail he was riding on is closed to bikes.

    Maybe mountain bikers would get more respect, if they said something else besides “I WANT I WANT I WANT”….

    Actually, I’m being unselfish, since I’m just asking that trails be open to everuone on an equal footing. Mountain bikers are being incredibly selfish, because they want to mountain bike regardless of the harm that it does to other people, animals, & wildlife.

  40. I guess I really didn’t think that you’d respond to me in any more of a reasonable manner than you have to anyone else here. I’m not going to argue with you as it appears you are incapable of logic or compromise where mountain bikes are involved. I’m sure you’ll need to have the last word on the subject anyway.

    So, my last thought on this subject is a quote from Sir Laruens van der Post, which is much more eloquent than I am: “Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyone doubt that they are right.”

  41. Me Selfish. 🙂 Let’s see, I want multiple use forests. I want everyone to enjoy the forest in a way that makes them happy. I want everyone to be vested in their National Forests. I want hikers to have their own special little place called Wilderness, but I don’t want them to have all National Forest. (Lots’ of unselfish I’s in this) I want all sports to be accepted. I want hikers and Xcountry skiers to quit complaining about everything. Yha, I want a lot.

    You, on the other hand, want everyone else to be kept out of the forest, and only hikers to be allowed into some areas. You want to point out everyone else’s destruction, ignoring your own. You want to claim it’s for the animals, when in reality it’s what you want, at any cost. You want to cast judgment upon everyone unlike you. Do you also intend to be king of your private public forest? You’d have done good at the Salem witch trials dear prosecutor. “Why, she is a witch, she has no proof to the contrary!”

    I’ve read the studies out of Yellowstone that support my statement about bipeds causing higher degrees of stress on animals, than motorized. The only Biological reason for closing an area to recreational access is due to erosion into stream beds. Most riparian area mud bogging has long since been outlawed. Some people claim that off road riding is biological, but in reality it is more aesthetics than scientific.

    It’s not required that I give a reason to be allowed to ride in the National Forest (my being born in a free country gave me this right), it is up to you to provide a very compelling reason why I shouldn’t be allowed. Although people such as yourself have brain washed for years that entering the National Forest is a privilege, I content it to be a right. All we’ve heard so far is that your giving everyone an equal chance to visit the forest, at the lowest common denominator.

    Reasons: How about, biking brings me joy. Biking motivates me to get some good exercise. Biking is a good way to spend time with your friends. I don’t want to experience the forest by hiking alone. (In your world, is there more than one flavor of ice cream, or is ice cream outlawed?) Biking does not do unacceptable damage to the environment.

    Oh, and to correct you, National Forest is not safe from brick and mortar. See the Boulder White Clouds Wilderness proposal. It’s all there in black and white text.

  42. Amen, Wade. You said everything I wanted to.

  43. I’m with Mike V. except he does not go far enough. His obsession with bikes is interesting but how can he be for any damage to the wilderness. No one should be allowed in there. We should allow nature to grow without our disruption.

    Its selfish of Mike to want the forest for himself when no one should be allowed there. He preaches foot power is the best power. Shame on him. People destroy. Shame on you Mike……Shame.

  44. So you’re advocating humans should be entirely kept out of an environment in which we evolved for millenia? If nature has survived this long with people in it, “destroying” it, I think it will be okay with us “in there” for awhile yet.

  45. Yes Mary, I’m sure clear cutting of forests is evoloving of the environment. Why, the desert must be the heaven that so many religious scholars have been striving for. I’m sure your ancestors backed the industrial revolution and poured their coal waste straight into the rivers. Your ancestors tore down countless acres of forest for what is now urban sprawl. I’m down right frightened of what you are ‘OK’ with. Shame.

  46. Clearcutting and being “in there” aren’t even remotely in the same sport, let alone ballpar.! Can’t remeber the last time I saw a clearcut in Wilderness… You have no idea who my ancestors were or what they did, so why even bring that up? Quit using hyperbole to make your point when one comment has nothing to do with the other. If you can’t even get my name right, why should anyone think you take the time to think out a simple argument?

  47. Come ON Mary,

    You’re using your name as a source of argument? Seriously? And you have never seen clear cutting? Are you even in the right forum? Maybe instead of reading comments from others to just agree, maybe you should come up with something constructive before you press the ‘submit your comment’ button.

  48. Aaron,

    Yes, I’ve seen clearcutting. Through monitoring, I’ve also seen the myriad of trees and wildlife that returns to them – sometimes more so than in the surrounding areas (um, bunny habitat as the primary food source for Lynx?). Your argument started as humans should’nt even be in Wilderness. Then your next comment is how destructive clearcutting is. ??? Go back and read them in sequence… Not even close to the same thread of discussion.

    I read ALL comments in this thread – some I agree with, some I don’t. I read them all to gain a better understanding of both sides because I know that I can learn and my side isn’t the only one (which is something many people on this site don’t seem aware of). One of my comments agreed with someone else.. the rest were in response to other comments.

    Insulting me without anything concrete to say is constructive how, exactly? Seems you’re just trying to get me worked up and distracted from the fact that you don’t have a leg to stand on in this debate.

  49. As I feared, Mike V successfully brought the level of discussion down to the gutter. Maybe we can bring it back up a few notches.

    I am not opposed to Wilderness, salvage logging or even clear-cutting. However, the way clear-cuttung is practiced here in Oregon is bad mainly because of how they replant. As a mountain biker, I ride regularly in recent clear-cuts, 10 or 15 year old regrowth, decades old second or third growth, old growth and recently burned (10 or so years ago) naturally regenerating forest.

    Second or third growth forests that were cut 50 or 100 years ago are delightful. They are not old growth, but still tranquil and beautiful.

    Recent clear-cuts are ugly as can be. That’s to be expected. All of the clear-cuts I am familiar with (a lot) are replanted with a mono-culture of a single species. When they get big enough that there is space underneath the branches and you can enter again, that space is barren, dead and dark. The trees are too close together and all the same age, so there is no room any diversity at all. There are no animals to see, no birds, nothing. I doubt that many people reading this list have ever been in such a forest. There is just no reason to go there.

    The one burn I see regularly up close is next to or in a Wilderness area. It is being allowed to return naturally. The regrowth is surprisingly slow, but steady. Ask any forest ranger and they will tell you that there is much more wildlife in recently burned areas than in climax forests. The problem is that a climax forest and a modern replanted clear-cut look a lot alike underneath.

    Personally, I would like to see more thinning and slavage logging. Where necessary, clear-cutting should be followed by replanting that is more “enlightened”, though I don’t know enough about forestry to say how.

    My frustration is that the eco fundamentalists are making it impossible to achieve good outcomes because of their all or nothing ideology.

    I also cannot stand to be seen as being on the same side as the motorized folk. I think they ought to be given places to do their thing, but if a horse has 10 times the impact of a mountain biker or hiker, a motorcycle has 10 times the impact of a horse, not to mention the noise that can be heard for miles. ATVs and motorcycles should be barred from single track and certainly all wilderness.

    My frustration and that of all mountain bikers is that we identify with the hikers and even the equestrians. We value the same things in the wild. Yet, many, out of ignorance, view us as somehow alien. We really, really want to be on the side of Wilderness. Just don’t use it to take away our best places to ride.

    PS No one really knows what North America without humans would look like. Read 1491 for some perspective.

  50. Bob C….

    I usually don’t chime in on these things, but I have to say your last comment was a real bullseye. And as you note, back on track, as far as the points I was trying to make in the commentary.


  51. Bob C. said “My frustration is that the eco fundamentalists are making it impossible to achieve good outcomes because of their all or nothing ideology.”

    Well, after thirty years of compromising and losing something irreplaceable every time, some of us are tired of giving ground.

  52. “You, on the other hand, want everyone else to be kept out of the forest, and only hikers to be allowed into some areas. You want to point out everyone else’s destruction, ignoring your own.”

    This is a good example of the fact that mountain bikers are incapable of telling the truth. What I actually said is that ALL humans should be excluded from as much wildlife habitat as possible. E.g. in North America, we have been there only 10-20,000 years, which is insignificant when compared to all native species. In other words, we are an exotic species. So obviously I’m not ignoring my own destruction, since I’m advocating excluding myself as well. And I said that EVERYONE (including mountain bikers) should be allowed in all areas open to people, so there is no discrimination. But BICYCLES & other vehicles, which aren’t human, and have no rights, should be excluded from all natural areas. I know you will continue to pretend that you didn’t hear that.

  53. “So you’re advocating humans should be entirely kept out of an environment in which we evolved for millenia? If nature has survived this long with people in it, ‘destroying’ it, I think it will be okay with us ‘in there’ for awhile yet.”

    You are only demonstrating your utter ignorance of basic biology. Humans wiped out most of the largest mammals from North America. That isn’t what I would call “harmless”. They also wiped out numerous species from Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. We didn’t “evolve” in North America, or anywhere else but Africa.

  54. “My frustration and that of all mountain bikers is that we identify with the hikers and even the equestrians. We value the same things in the wild. Yet, many, out of ignorance, view us as somehow alien. We really, really want to be on the side of Wilderness. Just don’t use it to take away our best places to ride.”

    If you valued the same things hikers value, you wouldn’t be able to mountain bike! We value quiet. We value pristine nature (i.e., no human artifacts, especially MACHINERY). No one is stopping you from supporting Wilderness but yourselves! Frankly, you are simply too lazy to walk. You could get all the exercise you want, without needing to do it on a bike. The ONLY thing that a bike adds is speed & ease of travel.

    MOST things are more enjoyable without bringing along a bicycle. Do you insist on taking it to bed with you? No, of course not! Because a bike has no business being in bed, and it adds nothing to the enjoyment of that experience. The same goes for being in Wilderness: the presence of bikes only detracts from the experience of nature. I prefer my wildlife without oil dripped on them, and without being crushed to death by a mountain biker. Why is that so hard for you guys to understand?????

  55. “Well, after thirty years of compromising and losing something irreplaceable every time, some of us are tired of giving ground.”

    AMEN! Mountain bikers’ thirst for trails is INSATIABLE. They travel so fast, that they really don’t experience ANYTHING of what they are passing, so they quickly get bored with every trail and start clamoring for more trails to ride (i.e., destroy). Yosemite National Park has the right idea: restrict bikes & other vehicles to pavement.

  56. All this talk of Clear cutting, makes me wonder how much people actually know about clear cutting.

    In Idaho, timber harvests (on National Forest Lands) are 10% to 20% of what they were thru the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. And, that’s with the National Forest owning 76% (20 Million acres total) of the forest in this state. Today, 90% of harvests come from private property, or state land to support schools. So your actually complaining about 10% of the forest harvest.

    You guys make it sound like their out there cutting the entire forest down. Heck, 2,000,000 acres burned in the state this year, about 1.5 million of that was National Forest. Compare that to the 15,000 acres of Timber cut every year in the Idaho National Forest (1/3 of that being clear cut) and you start to think that some people’s priorities are a little “out of touch”. I will grant you, that if it weren’t for the lawsuits, there would be a lot more timber cut every year, but a lot less might burn every year also.

    And no, you can’t cut forest in a wilderness.

  57. Everyone has a right to recreate on public lands. And the level and type of use, in terms of wildness, is on a continuum. On one end of the continuum you have BLM and park and national forest lands where motorized use is allowed. On the other end of the continuum, from a public policy standpoint, you have designated Wilderness, with no mechanized use.

    I think it’s fine to have roadless areas that do not allow motorized, but do allow bicycles. Our national recreation areas are a good example of this type of designation.

    But bicycles do not belong everywhere. And if you have a roadless area that has narrow, steep trails, or few trails, or has valuable wildlife resources and habitat, then it is more appropriate to designate that area Wilderness, and not wilderness lite.

    Let the qualities of the land itself determine the appropriate designation.

    Having said that, what is really missing from this picture, in the Lower 48, is wild places. Wilderness areas are not actually very wild anymore. They are being managed to death, with too many trails, signs, and too much trail maintenance. Some of us, being old enough to remember when Wilderness areas were still wild, would like to still have some wild places to visit.

    Wild places are a different sort of experience than Wilderness. They have few or no trails, they have abundant wildlife, solitude, rich habitat. They are not places that are appropriate for hunting, horses, rubber rafts, cell phones, etc.

    What I am getting at is that there is an even wilder, more pristine experience yet than what we are able to experience in lower 48 wilderness, and the crying need is for that sort of experience, which is being lost to us. They are places where our mettle and survival skills can truly be tested. They are personal testing grounds, and they are cradles of wildlife and endangered species.

    In comparison to such places, hiking on designated, maintained, signed trails is a boring and brain-dead experience. I have to go to northern Canada now to find such experiences. It’s a crying shame that we in the U.S. have lost true wilderness values and now it’s become all about recreation.

    There are studies that show that modern recreation is as, if not more, destructive to wilderness values and wildlife habitat as mining, logging, and grazing. That’s because recreation impacts are perpetual. The land never gets to heal. And the more trails that are blazed and maintained, the more human use these areas receive. And the greater pressure on wildlife and plant communities and water quality. I’ve seen the degradation to these areas with my own eyes over nearly 30 years of backpacking into once trail-free areas in Montana that now have trails being punched through or resurrected. Places that were once pristine are now full of human trash, waste, and fragile plant communities have been ground into hardpan, once-pure lakes are full of soap suds and beer cans.

    Maybe that’s your idea of progress, but it isn’t mine.

    Is it just too scary for the modern recreationist to be truly self-reliant out there, that he needs all this machinery and the cell phone to call search and rescue? What a bunch of wusses.

    Wilderness is not about recreation for me. It’s about being in quiet and solitude in a particular kind of pristine environment. And those kinds of opportunities are far more under threat than mountain biking opportunities, by a long shot.

    So if we are talking about sharing, how about sharing with those of us who don’t want trails everywhere? Those of us who want the opportunity to go way back into the middle of nowhere without sign of man? Why don’t our wants and needs and preferences count in this debate?

    I think everyone who enjoys public lands should have a place at the table. And that means respecting the entire spectrum of public lands users. It does not mean a further dumbing down of Wilderness until its meaning is utterly lost.

    I assure you that when Bob Marshall and Aldo Leopold were conceptualizing the Wilderness Act, they were not imagining these damned trails, signs, outhouses, cabins, and parking lots everywhere. They meant places you could get lost in. Try getting lost in today’s designated Wilderness. Practically impossible.

    If you aren’t putting yourself up against the risk of death, then you aren’t really experiencing wildness. You aren’t really testing yourself. Your loss. All our loss, now that there are virtually no places to do this any more.

    And if I haven’t been convincing or eloquent enough for you, please read Jack Turner’s “The Abstract Wild” for someone who expresses it better than I ever could.

  58. Thanks for bringing up the concept. I’m a bike rider, yet I certainly agree that some places are not wild enough. Your dialog reminds me of something I read years ago from the IMBA website. Gary Sprung wrote it, and it is a debateable concept called the “Graded Wilderness”. It is very similar to “Wilderness Lite” at one end of the spectrum, and more restrictive than our current wilderness act at the other end. Designed to promote thought, just like Bill’s article. Search for “graded wilderness” and you will find it.

    What we have failed in these comments is to really address the title of Bill’s article. Are we ready for wilderness lite. I am, but I would not want it to replace wilderness, that would be sad. We should be able to comprehend and embrace both.

  59. Your Government land managers clear cut in Wilderness all the time. It is a management objective: Wildland Fire Use…woofoo..wfu….let ‘er rip…black is beautiful….intentional benign neglect of fire by any ignition source in Wilderness and Roadless Areas….resource renewal (so do YOU have 500 years to wait for the new trees to gain ancient status?).

    When the trees are dead or incinerated, they are gone…as they are when loggers clear all the trees on a given piece of land and send the logs to milling. The difference is the loggers cannot take every tree now. Nor may they burn the duff to mineral earth. Modern logging is very much a lighter hand on the land than a stand removal wildfire.

    People forget that humans came to North America BEFORE the forests. They came during the Ice Age as the ice and perpetual snow fields were melting. That was what allowed them to pioneer this land. Humans were here with cultural fire at the beginning of forests. The two species are inseperable in North America…and if the humans would have had bicycles, they would have been riding them, just as they did horses when they arrived. Bikes are a time saver to a generation of time savers, who allocate time to every thing they do. You can cover a lot more wilderness on a bike. Have a bigger experience for the time allotted. Even when out of Blackberry range. Maybe satellite phones for evening and morning contacts…

  60. “Everyone has a right to recreate on public lands.” Nonsense. Congress and the courts determine what public lands can be used for. It has already been decided that there is no right to mountain bike ( Where people are allowed, the same rules apply to everyone, so there is NO discrimination against mountain bikers, as much as they would like to believe that there is.

    “You can cover a lot more wilderness on a bike. Have a bigger experience for the time allotted.” Nonsense. The faster you move, the less you see and experience. If you watch mountain biking videos, you can easily see that they RARELY stop, and “see” the land features only for a split second. That’s like “experiencing” the Louvre or the British Museum by riding through it on a bicycle. If you think you are “experiencing” it, you are kidding yourself. A bicycle is an energy-saving device that allows one to travel faster and easier than walking. It’s NOT a way to experience anything except bicycling (and crashing). You may be “covering” wilderness, but you aren’t really seeing it or experiencing it.

  61. mike, everyone does have a right to recreate on public lands. just not in every place, at every time, and in every manner.

    the bicyclists already have lots of places to ride. many more places to ride than hikers seeking a pristine environment free of signs of man have to hike. bikers have many more opportunities for their preferred mode of recreation than i do for mine.

    as for the question of the article in question: no, i am not ready for “wilderness lite.” i maintain that we already have too much “wilderness lite,” and we can’t allow the further degradation of existing wilderness values.

  62. Very well said! Bicycles belong on pavement, as is the rule in Yosemite National Park.

    Unfortunately, environmental ethics aren’t taught in our schools. They are not included in the science standards. But genetic engineering is!: one optional item is the fact that DNA can be injected into bacteria, in order to produce “protein products”. As if high school students care!

    That students could arrive at graduation thinking that mountain biking is acceptable indicates a clear failure of our educational system! Those students don’t have a clue about conservation or biology….

  63. Alice,

    You put it well. I understand completely, your desire to have a truly wild place. Not just saying that. So, why are wildernesses not truly wild. Not a lot, but enough people visit wilderness to make it mandatory for designated trails to exist, or there would be trails snaking everywhere. These people demand conveniences, and put a huge burden upon small mountain communities, when they get lost. Because, no matter how you may feel now, when your kid goes missing, you want Search and Rescue out looking for him. Or, your going to be crying in front of a bunch of news reporters. That’s the problem I have with your argument, you want a place with no people. That, by it’s very quality, would attract more people to it. So to control overuse, you must regulate. Lottery the wilderness, much as they do rafting now. But, you’d only get to visit once ever 10 years or so. So, it sounds like you would much rather have a private wilderness. Where only you, and people like you can visit. But, I and many other tax payers, refuse to pay for a private public forest. We could get rid of the trails, and signs, and all that. Make it difficult to enter wilderness, but these same McWilderness types you speak of, would just use motorized trails, claiming they had no where else to recreate. So, the motorized and bicycle community would be out more land, to support your huge impenetrable wilderness and the new McWilderness. We actually have a lot of that happening around here, near any population center. People want convenient wilderness, because real wilderness is too far to drive. Or, backcountry skiers want all the land near the road closed, so they can ski out of their cars. Yet there’s 1 million acres closed right over there.

    Oh, and your statement about National Forest being a place where bikes and motorized can recreate, I believe you need to check again. New travel plans for all the National Forests include huge closures in wheeled acreage.

    This hits upon another pet peeve of mine. Could we agree that your enemy is actually overpopulation. Less people would mean less roads and less trails. More places with less people in them. So, why did the Sierra Club take $100 million from David Gelbaum, to drop population control as a platform? Just google the guy.

    I think driving to Northern Canada, or Alaska, is the only way your going to find real wilderness these days. And, if we don’t stop overpopulation, there won’t be any place left.

  64. I’ll try to make it as simple and clear as possible:

    1. Humans are 100% dependent on other species.
    2. Those species are 100% dependent on viable habitat.
    3. The presence of humans is incompatible with the preservation of wildlife.
    4. The only way to preserve wildlife and habitat is to minimize the presence of people, AND their “footprint” (impact) while present.
    5. It’s repugnant to us to restrict people (who can go to wilderness, and when they can go).
    6. That leaves the only humane & viable choice being to restrict the TECHNOLOGIES people are allowed to use in wilderness: ban bicycles and other large pieces of machinery.
    7. That way, EVERYONE will be able to visit wilderness (wildlife habitat), as long as they minimize their impact.
    8. That is humane and fair to everyone, including the wildlife whose homes we are visiting.

    Any questions?

  65. If we were “100%” dependent on other species, we’d have all died when one species went extinct. We haven’t died off, and thousands of species have went extinct. So, either your math is wrong, or your out in left field. Maybe this is emotional math.

  66. “If we were “100%” dependent on other species, we’d have all died when one species went extinct.”

    Part of you HAS died. You just aren’t smart enough or honest enough to know what part. Are you one of those people who would be happy living in concrete box on 100% processed foods? Can you determine the value of every organism and every gene within every organism? I doubt it.

    Don’t confuse a real loss with your (in)ability to detect its impact.

  67. i don’t think the culprit is overpopulation.

    i think the culprit is the recreation industry and its promotions. they have bicycles and ohvs and skis and backpacks and boots to sell. and wilderness has become their co-opted commodity.

    they are working mightily–and have succeeded–in selling the recreation vision to the public. but the values they promote are not wilderness values. they are consumer values.

    and so now the people who go out into the wilderness want all kinds of infrastructure, safety, and equipment to a ridiculous degree. they don’t understand there is something better, a more powerful and authentic experience to be had.

    in a word, wilderness recreation has become almost obscenely fashionable. because it is good for the recreation industry that it be fashionable, and that it be about consuming, not about our spiritual lives.

    because our spiritual lives don’t need new and better gear, gps systems, cell phones, and lycra.

    take away the high tech gizmos and the toys, and how much human traffic do you think would be out in the wilderness? i know many, many people who are out there to play with their toys. they aren’t there to really take in their surroundings. so maybe no surprise that they don’t notice that their surroundings have been trashed.

    i’m not asking that all public lands be wild. just some. just enough that those of us who value silence, solitude, and a pristine environment still get to experience it once in a while.

    mike, i agree with your points. and i would go further and say that if we have wild lands that are sensitive for wildlife and plant communities, another option to reduce human impacts is to simply not maintain trails into those areas. the number of people willing to navigate off trail is so small, the impacts from them will be very minimal.

  68. I quite agree. It is the technology we need to control (ban), in order to reduce human impacts. Also the availability of roads and trails. This is all discussed in detail at, where I argue the need for areas off-limits to humans. The recreation industry is pushing their toys, but many people aren’t resisting. There are many “macho” men and women who aren’t happy unless they are performing some extreme sport, and risking their necks (and the necks of everyone around them). Luckily, the public has no obligation to support them, nor provide them a place to do that (see for that court decision).

  69. Thanks for the clarification Mike, Emotional Math it is.

    Alice, I do agree that places like REI and MEC use the outdoors as a marketing tool. How many do people you meet, that have to have the latest synthetic material cloths. I disagree about population, all of the problems you mentioned would be solved by a reduction in population. Would you agree that a doubling of the USA population would effect wilderness?

    Mike, Nice court decision. First, it’s from the ninth circuit, what would you expect but a liberal decision, (that court should have been disbanded 4 decades ago) that for all probability would be overturned in a higher court. They have a great record with their decisions.

    Second, it’s NPS not NFS. They live under a different set of rules. Sounded to me, as if the bicyclist had a good point. Do nothing equals changing everything. It was misleading, to bad the court didn’t understand or care.

    Personally, I believe in the spread them out and reduce congestion theory. Favorite greenie tactic, bunch them all up into smaller and smaller area, then claim their density is harming the environment.

  70. “all of the problems you mentioned would be solved by a reduction in population”

    Nonsense. BEHAVIOR matters. No amount of population FORCES you to mountain bike. That is a typical mountain biker attempt to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

    “for all probability would be overturned in a higher court”

    Is this your attempt at “emotional math”? I guess you forgot that I have the real thing: math degrees from Harvard and UC Berkeley, the top math schools in the country. The truth is, if it would have been overturned, IMBA would have appealed. But they knew didn’t stand a chance, and still don’t.

    “bunch them all up into smaller and smaller area, then claim their density is harming the environment”

    There you go again, attempting to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions. No one if FORCING you to “bunch up”. You are doing that yourselves.

    After two decades, mountain biking is still batting zero: there is still no legitimate reason to allow bikes into natural areas, which is why the most RESPONSIBLE land managers, such as Yosemite National Park, don’t allow mountain biking.

  71. Bill – Thanks for the great article. Judging from the comments and ranting above, it doesn’t sound like people are ready for it. There seem to be too many people set in their ways, convinced that their opinion is the only one that matters, and are unwilling to compromise.

    I hope that the commentators above are just the most vocal voice, not the majority voice. I hope for everyone’s sake that a middle ground can be found so that our kids, and grandkids can enjoy the last roadless lands in the New West.

  72. “so that our kids, and grandkids can enjoy the last roadless lands in the New West”

    Please explain how a bicycle ban would prevent kids from enjoying those lands. That’s still a mystery to me, and to other thinking people. CAN’T THEY WALK?!

  73. Sorry, what were you saying about population?

    “16 U.S.C. § 1131(a). In its entirety, 16 U.S.C. § 1131(a) provides:
    In order 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, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as “wilderness areas,” and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection
    of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness; and no Federal lands shall be designated as “wilderness areas” except as provided for in this chapter or by a subsequent Act.”

  74. UC Berkeley? Cool, Patterson’s course is about the best course I ever took there.

    Oh, for the record: From 1992 to 2003, the lowest percentage of overturned appeals was 68 percent. The highest was a telling 95 percent. The average percentage of Ninth Circuit Court decisions overturned by the Supreme Court during this time was 73.5 percent as compared to an average of 61 percent by the all the other circuit courts of appeal combined. Source:

  75. Mountain bikes are no less than unmotorized motorcycles. The mtb’er mentality is the same as ATV’ers and ORV’ers. Muscle power comes from hiking, horses, etc. — not mountain bikes. Hikers and other environmental groups are caving in way to easily to pushy mountain bike advocates and lobbyists. We are compromising way too much in order to pacify those that are mostly juvenile-thinking adults. Grow up already! Leave those mountain bikes at home and Take a hike!

  76. Extremely well stated, Steve. I’ve never seen the argument for rationality better expressed.

  77. Wants and desires are not bound by rational thought. The alliance of like-beliefs creates camps of mutual validation progressing to “us” and “them.”
    Sharing is something people generally teach their children at a very early age where cooperation in a community is necessary for the common good. Unfortunately with age comes the understanding that with the right power you don’t have to share anything with anyone except the people you choose.
    What we are seeing here is that there is a group of people, “us”, who already have power born of a historic position who simply don’t “want” to share. What follows are an amazing assortment of “reasons” to validate their dispostion, a very great many of which simply do not stand up to the light of day, that “them” are unworthy. And further on come the exhortations of the “fundimental truth” upon which their arguements are based. Next come definitions about what the experience of reality ought to be in a certain setting; defined between the ears of “us.”
    I was intersted to hear people speak of the need for wildness, a dazzling and miraculous state in my view, and the need to proceed with care. That lead to ideation about how one would be allowed to proceed in such places to preserve them that only a shod footfall (or hooffall) be allowed. Such statements were made which led to protestations that the lack of such precautions have lead to the destruction of Wilderness. I’d like to remind “us” that there are those of “us” camp who believe that the only way to experience these wild lands is with a bare foot for the “truth” of this reality. I wonder how much they “want” to feel horse-pucky between the toes?
    Clearly the battle lines have been drawn between the Monster Trucks and the Bare Foot Camp. I recall an old Star Trek where Michael Ansara says “ony a fool fights on a burning ship.” It think it is time that we challenge our definitions and rethink our process because, burning or not, the ship is sailing without us. Bill’s article and Steve’s thoughts were the points of departure we need.

  78. Steve’s comment is excellent. I agree whole heartedly.

  79. “The more we fight each other, the less land gets preserved.”

    Steve implies that hikers are responsible for this “fight”. But the fact is that by insisting on bringing bikes with them into wilderness, mountain bikers are 100% responsible for this fight. Leave your bikes at the trailhead, and the “fight” disappears! One of the main reasons that less land is being protected these days is that mountain bikers insist on continuing to bring their bikes there.

    “I’ve also taken up mountain biking, primarily due to illness/injury that left me unable to hike long distances.”

    Tough! I don’t think I can climb Mt. Everest, but I’m not about to use that fact as an excuse to ask that an escalator be installed for me.

    “The blanket anti-bike arguments are silly.”

    How “silly” is it to want to experience nature as it was given us by the Creator, rather than full of large, fast-moving pieces of man-made MACHINERY? How “silly” is it to want plants and animals not to get squashed and killed? How “silly” is it not to want to worry about getting hit by a bike coming around a blind turn? How “silly” is it not to want trails turned into V-shaped ruts, or ground into powder that the first rains will wash away? How “silly” is it to want kids to experience nature firsthand, on its own terms, instead of from the top of a bike? How “silly” is it, in short, to want the human footprint to be shrunk, not expanded?

    Steve thinks nothing of adding a second trail for mountain bikes, thus destroying more wildlife habitat. NO, Steve, we DON’T want the same thing. I want MORE protection for the land, not less. You don’t. Your ad hominem attacks only prove that you don’t have any rational arguments. It’s easier to attack me, than to address the REAL issues, isn’t it?

    I am still waiting, after 12 years, to hear even ONE good reason to allow bikes in natural areas. You certainly didn’t provide any.

  80. In the real world, hikers are cheap, and of little impact on the local economy. They bring their own food, clothes and equipment, and maybe buy gas, which means they are just another segment of the problem, and not a solution to anything in communities that have lost natural resource jobs and local economic opportunity. Mountain bikes just add more people, and more insult to the local injury.

    Wilderness never was, and never will be. Man is there, hiking, on trails, and being a part of it, and was 10,000 years ago, before the forest was there. However, the people who were here first used it all as a means of life support. Tens of thousands of the meadows, prairies, fens and fern flats, whatever you want to call them, were created by cultural fire, maintained for thousands of years by regular cultural fire, and that is rudimentary agriculture. All the extensive trail systems that were here before Lewis and Clark connected the fire maintained openings, like a string of oases in the forest. A refuge from wildfire, a place to stay, graze for horses, or a feeding area for wildlife, those areas were created by man, maintained by man, and discounted by the Ranger in his or her management plans. But, when the hand of man is so visible, and so valuable to the “wilderness” as a whole, it can just be called something else and glossed over. The neglect of cultural fire in specific areas is a great contributer to the increasing intensity of the fire regime we are seeing today. No cultural burning results in more fuel, and hotter and larger fires. It is not rocket science. Cultural ignorance, and inattention to history is not good for the environment, if only because the environment is one that was created by man thousands of years ago, and only disrupted in the last 150 years by a new sheriff in town. To preserve the environment that all seem to want, you have to manage the old better. Wildfire is not the answer. Nor is this continual fight by elitists over how to protect a myth, the myth of wilderness. Unlogged land never to be logged I can buy. Unroaded land never to be roaded I can buy. But I can’t buy into the concept of wilderness, if only because it represents a continuation of the directed genocide against native peoples that has been ongoing since the Spaniards arrived. To have official designation of the lands those people once lived in, on and with, as devoid of the hand of man is an insult, a denial of their past and their culture, and just plain wrong. If I were to designate a large piece of ground to no use at all, and declare it Jew and Lutheran free, I would be hounded into hiding. So why is fine to say that it is Native American, Indian, free, and always has been? That is, after all, how wilderness with a big W is described in law. That is an official lie chisled in the stone of federal law. How much more cultural insult land do we really need? And how does a mountain bike on those trails respect or honor the lives of all those who once walked those lands without high tech wheels, in search of food, shelter and personal happiness? Call Wilderness what it really is, and that is a religious reserve for people who think the Creator is best represented by unlogged roadless land. You wouldn’t ride your mountain bike down the aisle of the cathedral, so why would you want to ride in the unlogged roadless areas? Think about it. State protection of a State religious area. Or not. Nobody is checking credentials at the trailhead. Just money. The offering. Oh, and a permit from the Feds to use the Wilderness. For just a few days and then you need a new permit.

  81. I have been following the issue of mountain biking for the last 14 years. And in all that time, I have yet to year even ONE good reason for allowing bicycles in natural areas. Mountain bikers are all capable of walking. They just don’t WANT to! In spite of all the harm that bicycles do (accelerating erosion, creating V-shaped ruts that make travel difficult and dangerous, killing small animals and plants on and next to the trail, and driving animals and other trail users away), mountain bikers insist on bring their bicycle with them everywhere they go.

    Wilderness is an exceedingly rare resource. Let’s not destroy it or water it down by importing the accoutrements of the city. When I visit Wilderness, I want to see nature as she was originally designed. If I wanted to be around bicycles and other large, fast-moving pieces of MACHINERY, I would stay in the city. The push to allow bicycles everywhere is the work of people who don’t understand the value of nature.