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During the last session of Congress many wilderness and park bills were reported out of committee, but have not yet been voted on by the entire legislative body. Many of these bills will protect important wildlands across the country. And the recent election of many anti-wilderness legislators means that if these bills are not passed in the Lame Duck session coming up, these wildlands may not garner protection for a long time into the future.

Ominbus Wilderness Bill Likely

During the last session of Congress many wilderness and park bills were reported out of committee, but have not yet been voted on by the entire legislative body. Many of these bills will protect important wildlands across the country. And the recent election of many anti-wilderness legislators means that if these bills are not passed in the Lame Duck session coming up, these wildlands may not garner protection for a long time into the future.

At one time or another, I have visited at least a portion of the lands included in the major wilderness legislation before Congress. So I know first hand what these lands offer such as the Chihuahua desert in the granite ribbed Organ Mountains of New Mexico, the mossy rainforests of the Devil’s Staircase in Oregon’s Coast Range, the grassy plains in Buffalo Grasslands in South Dakota, and the diverse Southern Appalachian forests that line the Bald River in Tennessee. All of these lands are worthy of wilderness protection but their future is uncertain if legislation is not passed in this session of Congress.

The political risk for these lands is displayed well in New Mexico. Senator Bingamam of New Mexico is one of the sponsors of the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act that would protect hundreds of thousands of acres in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces New Mexico. But the newly elected Congressman Republican Steve Pearce whose district includes the Organ Mountains is opposed to any new wilderness. A similar situation exists in many of the districts where new wilderness and/or parks are proposed. So it’s now or never for many of the areas proposed for wilderness in the last session of Congress.

Voting on individual bills in the limited time left in this session means few, if any of these bills, would become law despite obvious support from Congress. As a result Senator Bingaman, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has decided to bundle as many as 60 separate bills, including many wilderness proposals into one Omnibus lands bill for passage. A similar technique was used in the 2009 Congressional session to garner wilderness designation for many areas in the country including wilderness designations in Utah, Oregon, Virginia, Michigan and California.

The status of two major pieces of wilderness legislation is unknown at this point. Montana Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, (S. 1470), that would designate 669,160 acres of wilderness and 336,205 acres of recreation, protection, and special management areas on three national forests in Montana–the Kootenai, Beaver Head-Deerlodge and Lolo National Forests remains uncertain. Likewise Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s 333,000 acre Boulder White Cloud proposal (Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreations Act, or CIEDRA,) is still up in the air.

Both failed to make it out of committee, and Senator Bingaman is reluctant to include legislation that has not already passed through the committee process. Of the two, Simpson’s Boulder White Cloud is the least controversial and probably should be included in any Omnibus legislation.

Senator Tester’s bill is more problematic especially on Tester’s insistence for a mandated logging quota, which is not popular in Congress. Whether Tester’s will be in the Omnibus bill is unknown, however, Tester’s staff hopes that the Senator can circumvent the Omnibus bill process by attaching his legislation to other must pass legislation as a rider. Given the large amount of new wilderness that would be created, one can hope that some compromise can be reached that would enable the basic outline of this legislation to be enacted, but without out the egregious timber mandates.

Two other major pieces of wilderness legislation not likely to be included in the Omnibus legislation are the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) and America’s Red Rock Act. Both are ambitious and among the most important wildlands legislation proposed in recent years. As a consequence, they are controversial in the states affected, though they have significant support across the nation. NREPA legislation would protect 24 million acres of the finest wildlands in five states including Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. The bill basically would protect what Congress has already approved–since it legislatively protects the major and minor roadless lands of this spectacular region.

America’s Red Rocks Wilderness Act would provide protection to 9.4 million acres of Utah’s canyon country. The canyon country is probably the most unique landscapes found anywhere on earth.

Any Omnibus lands bill will probably include national park legislation, including creation of a 89,000 acre Valles Caldera National Park in New Mexico as well as many park studies such as a proposal to evaluate New York’s Hudson River Valley for its potential as a national park unit.

However, with regards to wilderness legislation, the following wilderness proposals are likely to be included in any Omnibus legislation:

ARIZONA: The Tumacacori Highlands are south of Tucson along the Arizona-Mexico border. One of the largest roadless areas in the state, the 83,000-acre area consists of rugged cliffs and ridgelines of three mountain ranges culminating in Atascosa Peak at 6,249′ elevation. Home to jaguars, elegant trogons, gray hawks, mountain lions, javelina, coati, five-stripped sparrow, Mexican vine snake, and tropical kingbird, the area has some of the highest biodiversity of rare species of any area in the U.S.

CALIFORNIA: There are four bills proposed for California. One would up grade Pinnacles National Monument to National Park status, adding 3,000 acres to wilderness status. Originally designated as a national monument by Teddy Roosevelt, Pinnacles was recently the site of a successful condor restoration effort.

One of the most iconic landscapes in California, the Santa Lucia Range rises dramatically 6000 feet from the Pacific Ocean. The Big Sur Forest Management Act would add 2000 acres to the 240,800 acre Ventana Wilderness in the Santa Lucia Range and designates Arroyo Seco, Carmel and San Antonio rivers and the San Carpoforo and Big Creeks to the National Wild and Scenic River system.

The Beauty Mountain Agua Tibia Wilderness Act, (H.R. 4304), would protect 21,000 acres in southern California near San Diego by adding lands to the Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness areas. These areas exhibit granite boulders and scattered oak groves mixed with chaparral,

Finally the biggie in California is The California Desert Protection Act, (S. 2921), introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein. This expansive bill would protect nearly 1.5 million acres of southern California’s desert lands by creating two new National Monuments (Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow National Monuments), adding Wilderness acreage, expanding Joshua tree and Death Valley National Parks, and protecting the desert’s historic treasures like Route 66.

COLORADO: Like California, there are several pieces of Colorado wilderness legislation before Congress. One is the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act that would add 33,383 acres to the wilderness system by expanding the existing Mt. Sneffels and Lizard Head Wilderness areas, and the establishment of the McKenna Peak Wilderness. In addition it would protect another 28,293 as the Sheep Mountain Special Management while prohibiting oil and gas development in Naturita Canyon.

To the north of the San Juan Mountains near Vail, the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act proposes protection of nearly 166,000 acres. The original proposal was trimmed by nearly 100,000 acres to appease mountain bikers (who in so many ways are no different than the motorized thrillcraft crowd). The legislation proposes quite a number of small wilderness areas, including in the Williams Fork Mountains and Ten Mile Range as well as a Red Table Special Management Area. Additions to the Holy Cross, Eagle Nest, and Ptarmigan Wildernesses are included in the bill.

The most expansive legislation is Rep. Diana DeGette Colorado Wilderness Act of 2009. The bill would protect 34 areas totaling 850,000 acres. Included in the bill are 14,000 foot summits like Red Cloud Peak and red rock canyons of the Dolores River. Most of the lands are managed by the BLM like the Little Book Cliffs, Granite Creek, Palisades and Unaweep areas by Grand Junction as well as Browns Canyon, Beaver Creek and Grape Creek near Canyon City.

MICHIGAN: The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act would protect 32,557 acres of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

NEW MEXICO: The El Río Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act includes 235,000 acres of the Rio Grande’s magnificent gorge and, among other things, protect 13,420 acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and 8,000 acre Rio San Antonio Wilderness.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act would protect would protect 270,000 acres of wilderness and 110,000 acres as a National Conservation Area near Las Cruces. In addition to the granite spires of the Organ Mountains, portions of the Robledo, Doña Ana and Potrillo mountains would be given some overlay of protection.

OREGON: There is one thing that the Coast Range of Oregon does well and it is grow trees—giant trees. Unfortunately most of this natural capital has been logged off. One of the few places in the Coast Range where you can see forests as they once stood in magnificent abundance is Wassen Creek drainage near Reedsport. A cascade along Wassen Creek gives rise to the name Devil’s Staircase. The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act, would protect 29,650 acres of wilderness in one of the most remote parts of these mountains and roughly 19 miles of Wild and Scenic River.

In eastern Oregon lies the John Day River, one of the longest undammed tributaries of the Columbia left. And as a consequence, the river is a major spawning ground for steelhead and Chinook salmon. The river flows through a wonderful canyon for much of its length that is only accessible by canoe, kayak and raft. Bordering the river are two proposed wilderness areas each of about 8,000 acres: Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock proposed wilderness areas. Both are cloaked in lovely bunchgrass/sage a community that supports elk, mule deer, and home to endangered pygmy rabbits.

A third bill that may make its way on to the Omnibus bill is the Wild Rogue proposed wilderness. The Wild Rogue lies in southwest Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains. Famous for whitewater rafting, and salmon/steelhead fishing, the Wild Rogue proposal would protect 58,000 acres as wilderness and 143 miles of stream as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

SOUTH DAKOTA: America has very little of its native prairie in any protected status. Most of the plains have been carved up by till farming, and the rest is grazed by livestock. Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act would correct this by designating 48,000 acres as wilderness in the Indian Creek, Red Shirt and Chalk Hills areas of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland on the borders of Badlands NP. Walking these vast open breathing spaces reminds me of being on the vastness of tundra in Alaska. It’s a sense of freedom that is more difficult to experience in more forested terrain. As with any designated wilderness, livestock grazing will continue. This is particularly ironic since Tony Dean, who was an outdoor writer in South Dakota, railed against welfare ranchers and their impact on the state for decades. However language could be inserted into the legislation to permit buyouts of grazing privileges so that eventually bison, not cattle, will be grazing these lands.

TENNESSEE: The Tennessee Wilderness Act would designate a total of 20,000 acres as federal wilderness, including additions to five existing wilderness, and one new wilderness, the Upper Bald River Wilderness. All of these areas are within the Cherokee National Forest in the mountains against the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

UTAH: The Wasatch Mountains provide the dramatic backdrop for Salt Lake City and other communities. These mountains provide not only an amazing recreational opportunity for the bulk of Utah’s citizens, but they are an important source of water for these communities. The Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Management Act recognize these important values by creating 15,500 acres of new wilderness and 10,000 of Special Management Area.

WASHINGTON: The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act would add 22,000 acres to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and 10 miles of the Pratt River and 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is one of Washington’s most spectacular wild areas with high granite peaks and dozens of pristine mountain lakes. This legislation helps to protect a lot of the lower elevation old growth forests.

WEST VIRGINIA: The Monongahela Conservation Act would create the 6,042 acre North Fork Mountain Wilderness. This proposal was shaved down from its original 9,000 plus acres to keep the major trail to the mountain top open to mountain bikers. Like the Hidden Gems legislation in Colorado, more and more wildlands are being compromised by mountain bikers who are nothing more than non-motorized thrillcraft.

About George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner has published 36 books, including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

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  1. “The original proposal was trimmed by nearly 100,000 acres to appease mountain bikers (who in so many ways are no different than the motorized thrillcraft crowd).”

    Way to marginalize folks that would normally be your allies, Mr. Wuerthner. Mountain bikers care about natural places and would prefer to see wild-lands and roadless areas protected. Wilderness advocates need to see that silent human powered recreation is not the enemy. Extractive industries are. Mountain bikers and Wilderness advocates have far more in common than in differences. Protection of our natural resources is a noble goal. But let’s not confuse the tool (Wilderness designation) for the goal (protection).

    Companion designations are viable alternatives to Wilderness designation that are also acts of Congress. Wilderness advocates like to say bicycle friendly companion designations or ‘Wilderness lite” designations aren’t strong enough to protect precious resources. To date, not a single designated Nat’l Recreation Area, Nat’l Scenic Area, Nat’l Conservation Area, Nat’l Preservation Area, etc designated by Congress has been overturned. Companion designations allow for land management decisions to be made on a case by case basis locally by people with boots-on-the-ground knowledge, not in Washington.

    Here in Summit County, Companion designations are going to be utilized in the Eagle/Summit Wilderness Preservation Act. These areas will be protected because of caring individuals who VOLUNTEERED hours upon hours of their time and effort in the name of the Summit Fat Tire Society (SFTS). With these Companion designations, MORE land will be protected from extractive industries while still allowing for a human powered recreational experience, mountain bikes included. The SFTS urged our local Congressman & the proponents of the Wilderness plan to add even more acreage to the plan under a Companion Designation. Wilderness advocates largely ignored SFTS’s alternative which would have nearly doubled the acreage of the lands to be protected.

  2. Dan

    The other designations do not provide nearly the level of protection that wilderness designation does. The motorboat crowds at Lake Mead and Glen Canyon NRAs and the logging that has degraded many thousands of acres of Hells Canyon NRA are just a couiple of examples of how NRAs are not up to protecting the land in the same way that wilderness designation.

    I and a lot of other wilderness advocates (many of whom are also mountain bikers) feel mountain bikes are a threat to foot traffic and inappropriate in the same areas. I would say the same about other non-motorized pursuits from skateboarding to screaming down a snowy trail on a luge.

    One of the effects of mountain bikes is that they shrink the landscape–just as other motorized transportation does–and that shrinkage affects both the conservation value and emotional value of wildlands.

    Mountain biking turns wildlands into an outdoor gymnasium-which I would suggest is not what we should be promoting in these areas.

    For the most part, at least at its more demanding level, mountain biking is not about communing with nature and/or appreciation of wild places. The mechanical advantage given by today’s modern bikes cheapens and degrades the experience for others, and has potential negative impacts on the land (for instance riding a mountain bike might give hunters access to formerly remote lands that provided wildlife with a refuge).

    I hope if you genuinely love wilderness and wild places that you would advocate for wilderness designation even if it means a few less places to ride a bike.

  3. It’s Senator “Bingaman” — not Bingham.

  4. James

    Thanks. I’m dyslexic and can’t spell to save my life. Corrected it. Much appreciated.

  5. George,

    One thing you may have missed, and I could have been more specific – the Summit/Eagle Companions designations are non motorized. I am referring to non-motorized usage. Lumping mountain bikers in with the OHV crowd is an archaic argument. We’re human powered! And to be clear – EVERY use has an impact. Even hikers & backpackers who camp overnight, defecate in the forest, and cut switchbacks or tread off trail. This isn’t about user impacts though… I’m not trying to single out any one particular use or user group. If I were to blame anything, water is the trails worst enemy. Poorly designed and/or maintained routes cause the most damage. USFS studies as well as studies conducted by hiking clubs have concluded that a fat tire does no more damage, and in some cases less, than a hiker’s footprint.

    Your statement “mountain biking is not about communing with nature and/or appreciation of wild places” is purely your opinion. One of the very reasons I mountain bike is to commune with nature and to say that I do not appreciate wild places is a straight out lie. In fact, our local fat tire group has logged hours upon hours of volunteer trail work over the last 3 decades (SFTS predates IMBA).

    You also state that the mechanical advantage given by bicycles cheapens the experience. This is bunk. What about the mechanical advantage provided by Vibram soles, anti-shock hiking poles, ski bindings, oar-locks for rafts, pedal-powered propellers found on some kayaks, climbing ascenders, even horse saddles? These items are all legal in Wilderness.

    Your argument about mountain bikes shrinking the landscape is pure bunk also. Equestrians can often travel the same distances as those of us on bicycles, but who’s impact is greater? Bicyclists are in & out visitors and we stay on the trail, the same cannot be said of those on foot, be it hooves or boots. Want to shrink the landscape, how about development, logging, mining, drilling? I’m talking about simple, silent, human powered activity that Congress intended to promote with the Wilderness Act. Congress NEVER meant for Wilderness to become a religion.

    A 1961 statement by Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, made when Senator Anderson introduced a prior version of the Wilderness Act in the Senate. In a passage titled “Wilderness Recreation,” Senator Anderson stated, as relevant here:
    “Yet we must recognize and emphasize more than we have the values of wilderness recreation in providing for the health and vigor of our citizens. ”

    Do I want to ride my bike in all Wilderness lands? No. But on a case by case basis, depending on the area, allowing bicycles in Wilderness should be possible. I don’t feel that the blanket ban of (non motorized) mechanized transport is the right way to manage Wilderness. Wilderness advocates are losing allies. I will oppose any new Wilderness area for as long as there are restrictions on fat tire bicycles.

  6. Dan

    I understand many of your arguments. I do not suggest that mountain bikes are say worse than horses or that matter cows (which are allowed in wilderness). But do we want to add anymore to the kinds of activities that degrade the land and wildlands values?

    The problem created by mountain biking is that it would open the door to many other uses that collectively will degrade wildlands and eventually make it a pointless designation.

    What about electric mountain bikes? Should they be allowed? Maybe you could argue they are no worse than muscle powered mountain bikes. Or skateboards? There are “land skateboards” now that are used on trails. Who knows what new inventions will come along that will compromise the idea and values of wildlands. I do not like using the tired phase about the camel’s nose under the tent, but that is how I feel about mountain bikes.

    I think allowing mountain bikes in wilderness is an invitation to the destruction of the entire wilderness system–not necessarily from mountain bikers, but how it creates an opening for many other users to argue that their use is also legitimate in wilderness as well. The collective impacts of all these new uses will ultimately be the death of wildlands.

    Again I would hope if you love wilderness that you can enjoy it without riding a bike and therefore support wilderness designation. Most Americans support wilderness and don’t even venture in a wilderness. But it’s not about whether one gets to “use” the area. I hope that is what you will conclude at some point.

  7. Agree with Dan. 100%.

    Mr. Wuerthner, your article shows a disheartening amount of bias – it reads like yet another dogmatic innuendo-laden treatise from old-guard Wilderness advocates.

    Mountain biking is not the enemy, yet Wilderness advocates have chosen to portray it as so. Let me see if I have this right; you would rather risk potential development and resource extraction on our public lands than bring the MTB community (and its considerable voice) squarely on your side by admitting that some (not all) trails are appropriate for shared use?

    You may want to consider that you and your inflexible approach are increasingly perceived as the real roadblock when it comes to public land protection.

    It’s time for Wilderness B (Wilderness with bikes) a designation that allows silent human-powered recreation so that like-minded stewards (not necessarily closed-minded ones) can get past these petty squabbles and link arms in the interests of public land protection. Think of what could be accomplished TOGETHER.

    Silent, human-powered protector of wild lands (with the hours to prove it),
    Mike McCormack

  8. Dan is right on the mark. Wilderness designation is an extremeist policy and as a result is difficult to get put in place, leaving our lands unprotected. Mountain biking is closely related to hiking in terms of trails, speeds, and experience. The selfishness typical of pro-Wilderness hikers who want the land to themselves continues to undermine true and adoptable methods of protection of our resources.

  9. Lumping mountain bikes in with the motorized community is wrong. As a user group, mountain bikers conduct more trail maintenance and general wild lands stewardship than the motorized contingent…and in many cases the hiking community. The Wilderness community has systematically alienated a significant user group whose activity and ideology line up so closely with the Definition of Wilderness (a good read).

    Frank Church said it best:

    “As the floor manager of the 1964 Wilderness Act, I recall quite clearly what we were trying to accomplish by setting up the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was never the intent of Congress that wilderness be managed in so “pure” a fashion as to needlessly restrict customary public use and enjoyment. Quite the contrary, Congress fully intended that wilderness should be managed to allow its use by a wide spectrum of Americans.”

    Thanks, Frank. Unfortunately, someone slipped in “mechanized transport” and the rest is history.

  10. “it would open the door to many other uses”

    It is public land paid for by all Americans. It should be open to other uses, period.

  11. Andrew Brautigam - West Virginia Native

    The North Fork Mountain trail is one of the premier mountain biking trails in WV, if not the country. It is a one-way, ridgeline trail that is rarely used by hikers or any other users. If the John Muir trail was closed to all hikers, many wilderness advocates would be up in arms.

    I have worked in the outdoors, and led many extended, expedition level trips into the backcountry, and the worst impact in the woods is from hikers, period. Hikers use trails when they are wet, hike off-trail, and bring food, trash, and all sorts of problems into the woods with them. Despite these facts, walkers are the group that are protected most fiercely by Wilderness advocates. There is no consistency in the so-called “ethic” of Wilderness advocates.

    Mountain biking is a quiet, low-impact, human powered recreational activity. It is dependent on technology, but so is hiking, as long as it isn’t survivalist style. Think about the environmentally conscious, motivated, and involved people that you are alienating with statements like “more and more wildlands are being compromised by mountain bikers who are nothing more than non-motorized thrillcraft.”

    Unless you are willing to advocate for humanity-free wilderness, your wilderness advocacy is inherently inconsistent. Lighten up, and allow other recreational groups a seat at the table.

  12. “Electric mountain bikes?” I think you’ve answered your own question – clearly those would fall under motorized use…and thus be restricted under a human-powered only designation.

    “Land skateboards?” Seriously? Have you ever seen one? They’ve got 5-inch wheels. Completely impractical outside of a fairly groomed environment…and thus not likely EVER to see use in a rugged environment.

    It seems as if all of your arguments against other user groups hinges on the fact that YOUR experience would be “compromised”. Time to drop the selfless act. If preservation is truly your goal, then perhaps we should all agree to not set foot in these precious places. Because until you get some skin in the game (name just ONE trail in the entire country where hikers aren’t allowed) your position smacks of selfishness and nothing more.

    In other words, you simply don’t want us there but can’t come up with a better argument than the fearmongering threat of “opening up the window for electric bikes.”

  13. George, buddy, what in the heck are you talking about. Perhaps you have had a bad encounter with a mountain biker, for that I am sorry. But your arguments in regard to bikes not belonging are so off base, it truly concerns me. Perhaps you simply fear what you clearly do not understand. You should absolutely be ashamed for your factless assertion that bikers are in so many ways like motorcycles. From statements like that I can see you are very closely related to a horses ass.

  14. Dan, Mike and the rest of you.

    Just got done riding my mountain bike on a trail while I contemplated the arguments. I feel you are missing my points, but perhaps that is my fault.

    I am not supporting wilderness so I can have a place to hike, bird watch, fish or whatever. I would support wilderness designation that did not permit many of the activities I love–from cross country skiing to canoeing. I support wilderness for the sake of the land, not to provide a “recreational experience” for myself or others–though I certainly believe nature observation and some forms of recreation are compatible with wilderness.

    However, I would urge you to support wildlands protection whether you are permitted to recreate in your chosen manner. I welcome your support and hope that you can see a way to support wilderness without bike access, and help to protect areas that you may not ever get to experience first hand.

    Arguing that unless you can mountain bike in an area you can’t support wilderness designation suggests to me that the most important thing is the biking, not the land protection itself.

    So we are starting out from fundamentally different perspectives about why designate wilderness. Though I have visited at least some portion of the lands proposed in each of these bills, I doubt I will ever explore even a fraction of these lands. But I still support wilderness protection for the reasons articulated so well by Wallace Stegner–what he called the Geography of Hope.

    By contrast, I fully support, and have enjoy creation and designation of mountain bike trails in the appropriate locations–outside of major roadless lands and wilderness. There is a place for mountain biking–it’s just not in roadless lands and/or wilderness.

    I think that mountain bikes are a threat to the basic concept that is fundamental to the idea of wilderness. It’s an increase in mechanical access. Not withstanding that i know there are exceptions in some places that allow airplanes, etc. in designated wilderness, I would argue that these exceptions degrade the value of wilderness.

    I don’t know how old you guys are, but when the first mountain bikes appeared, I and my friends who are all staunch wilderness supporters, were among the first to adopt their use. But we also recognized early on the threat that mountain bikes presented for wildlands.

    And so my fear goes beyond mountain bikes. Mechanical innovation has created all kinds of new vehicles, machines, and ways to access the land. When I was a boy, four wheel drive jeeps were the only real off road vehicles. Today we have a huge assortment of machines from four wheelers to snowmobiles–none of which existed or were used extensively when I was a child.

    Human ingenuity is endless. And if mountain bikes are permitted in wilderness, we will be forever fighting the next incarnation of machines and/or mechanical access–whatever they may be.

    Again I would encourage you to think about this yourself. There are plenty of places to mountain bike–most of the country is not suitable for wilderness designation. Much of that land base is suitable for mountain biking as well as other pursuits. I hope you will reconsider your stances and join in the effort to protect wildlands for their own sake–not the sake of any particular user group. I sure would appreciate your help. Thanks.

  15. Alright bike folks. You’ve not exactly making yourself or other mountain bikers like me look very good by ganging up on George in such an uncivil and uncompromising way. Your limiting yourself if you can’t see there is room more than an either-or debate here.

    As a Montana mountain biker, I just want others to know that the comments posted on this board don’t speak for myself or generally reflect the views of all bikers. The dirty secret that hasn’t been talked about on this board yet is that most bikers understand their is a time and place for wilderness and a time and place for biking.

    I and many of my twenty-something friends cherish time spent in Wilderness. Those special places allow for amazing opportunities such as hunting, hiking, birding, camping, backpacking, fishing, wildlife watching, ice climbing, and skiing. Further, wilderness allows us to put away the cell phones and travel at natures pace for once – which is a thoroughly vanishing experience.

    When I want to go a little faster faster, I’ll go biking. It’s a completely different experience though. I believe in wilderness 100% and I believe in mountain bike trails 100%. We should most certainly have new wilderness in the future but we should also couple that with new trail systems and designations for bikers too.

  16. I don’t think it’s a matter of choosing land protection or mountain biking as my chief concern. Where we don’t see eye-to-eye is on human-powered, quiet mountain biking being a “threat” to Wilderness. This is the fundamental disagreement.

    The Forest Service issued a nationwide memo stating they felt hiking and mountain biking were the SAME impact on our public lands. Horses on the other hand, mangle the landscape and spread noxious weeds with their excrement…but I don’t see you politicking against them. Do you feel they align with the Definition of Wilderness where man is a VISITOR? I wouldn’t invite visitors back to my house if they pooped in my yard.

    By the way, you CAN XC ski and backcountry ski in the Wilderness – just another hypocritical, discriminating rule arbitrarily-based.

    George, in the end here’s something for YOU to think about: feel free to advocate Wilderness, but save us your “threatening” mountain bike rhetoric. The Wilderness community has stolen our public lands from us, give it a rest already.

  17. George, you started out by setting back the Wilderness cause when you said:

    “[M]ore and more wildlands are being compromised by mountain bikers who are nothing more than non-motorized thrillcraft.”

    But it appears you backtracked thereafter (a wise move). Now you say:

    “The problem created by mountain biking is that it would open the door to many other uses that collectively will degrade wildlands and eventually make it a pointless designation. . . . I think allowing mountain bikes in wilderness is an invitation to the destruction of the entire wilderness system—not necessarily from mountain bikers, but how it creates an opening for many other users to argue that their use is also legitimate in wilderness as well. The collective impacts of all these new uses will ultimately be the death of wildlands.”

    If that’s your current position, i.e., that mountain biking does not necessarily represent the destruction of Wilderness but could bring about other uses that are noxious, you and those of similar mind may rest assured that mountain bikers will not be the nose under the camel’s tent when, inevitably, we are allowed in Wilderness, consistent with the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964.

    As I’m sure you know, but others may not, the Act prohibits every motorized conveyance (16 U.S.C. § 1133(c)) and every “structure or installation” (ibid.) that a nonmotorized conveyance that’s heavier than a bicycle might need. The Act is quite bulletproof in those respects. There is no cause for alarm.

    Now all you have to do is drop the qualifying adverb “necessarily” from your latest stance and we’ll all be able to agree. Which will benefit, above all, Wilderness itself.

  18. MontanaBiker, please don’t pretend to speak for “most bikers” and that we’re hiding some dirty little secret. State your opinion, but don’t suggest there is some community-wide conspiracy we’re leaving out. It’s heresay and really not true.

  19. I would like to add my support to and agreement with many of the thoughtful pro-mountain bike comments made above, particularly those made by Dan Monaco and Mike McCormack. Mountain bikers are pro-conservation, have an excellent track record of trail maintenance and have the same impact on trails as hikers and less than equestrians. Mountain biking IS compatible with the ‘human powered recreation’ that was at the core of the 1964 Wilderness Act (see quotes above). Why do I like riding my mountain bike more in Crested Butte, CO than Golden, CO? The same reason hikers have the same preference. Crested Butte is prettier, more ‘natural.’ See! Mountain Bikers have very similar values to other trail users. We are legitimate users. To say that a mountain bike grants unfettered, effort free access to the entirety of trails in this land is a statement made by someone who hasn’t ridden a mountain bike. Just like hiking, you can only get as far as your legs will take you.

    Additionally, the ‘mechanized travel’ restriction on mountain bikes makes no sense. I skied yesterday (legally) in the James Peak Wilderness Area. Ever seen a Dynafit binding? There’s more engineering in that mechanism than my singlespeed mountain bike. This is not a valid reason to exclude mountain bikes from Wilderness unless every activity but nude hiking is also banned in Wilderness.

    So why aren’t mountain bikes allowed in Wilderness? Hikers and Equestrians- we are not daredevil thug throttle twisters looking to run over the wildlife you are watching, lay trenches in the trails or film a Mountain Dew Commercial on top of the Maroon Bells. We are like minded trail users with a different means of travel. We have seen a lot of tolerance of differences develop in my lifetime (I’m 38). It is time to see tolerance towards bicycles in Wilderness.

  20. Jeff

    I agree with many of your points, but I would still insist that allowing bikes in wilderness would be a big mistake.

  21. Matt,

    I’m actually just suggesting that people don’t make the mistake of thinking your comments represent the beliefs of an entire recreational constituency. It’s pretty clear your all activists who linked George’s post on a facebook page that has a clear mission of putting bikes in wilderness.

    As I stated before – we can have both and their is a lot of middle ground and opportunity to work together on these sorts of things.

  22. Where’s Mike Vandeman? Quiet, I suppose, as he is about to go on trial for assaulting mountain bikers with sharp tools and for vandalism of UC Berkeley property.

    “…Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Better clean up your website, Mike. You are a hypocrite.

  23. George – thanks for taking the time to respond at length, even if at the end of the day we’re going to have to disagree. Current Wilderness proposals here, in Montana and all across the rest of the country are taking away trails that the mountain bike community has built, maintained and protected with years of sweat equity. Gone forever will be the ability to interconnect trail networks and the ability to have a true village-to-village backcountry experience by bike. An experience I’d offer that isn’t the exclusive domain of the hiking community.

    You state that “there are many places to mountain bike”. Really? Those places become fewer and fewer as more lands fall under the outdated Wilderness designation. There are currently over 107 MILLION acres designated as Wilderness in the United States, each one of them off-limits to cyclists. Again I ask you, point to one trail, just one that’s off limits to the hiking community. You can’t. We on the other hand can point to tens of thousands.

    There are some places that are appropriate for a Wilderness designation. Most of those places have already been designated thus. What’s currently being advocated across the country are sub Wilderness grade parcels that do not meet the criteria and yet create massive impacts in terms of experience and connectivity for the MTB community. As the designation further encroaches on a shrinking trail network you can expect louder and louder resistance.

    One final note – when you make statements like “I feel you are missing my point” you further underwrite the hubris with which many Wilderness advocates approach the dialogue, implying that there is but one valid perspective and that any other is the result of some sort of failure to understand of the part of your adversary. Intentional or not, it marginalizes and patronizes those of us holding a viewpoint different from your own. Failure to agree does not necessarily imply a failure to understand.


    PS – MontanaBiker, do you mean that you have twenty something friends or were you oh-so-subtly implying that the Wilderness debate has many supporters within the 20-something demographic and therefore support among the youth segment? (Why are you guys so clumsy at this?) Respectfully, mountain bikers generally DO agree with the perspectives stated above and not your cut-and-pasted rationalization from the “Arguments for Wilderness” handbook. To suggest otherwise is…well, it’s really just subterfuge planted to support your position, isn’t it?

  24. Montana Biker,

    Except for one rather harsh characterization, I think mountain bikers’ comments on here have been eminently civil and polite.

    I hope I will not appear uncivil if I comment critically on two of your contentions.

    First, you assert:

    “The dirty secret that hasn’t been talked about on this board yet is that most bikers understand their [sic] is a time and place for wilderness and a time and place for biking.”

    The reason the putative mountain bikers’ anti-bikes-in-Wilderness movement remains so unobserved is that it is so feeble. In my experience, not one in a hundred mountain bikers believes that mountain bikes must be excluded from all Wilderness areas 100% of the time on every trail.

    To be sure, there is a site called that represents that point of view (meaning, incidentally, that it’s hardly a secret). I know one of the signatories, however, and he is not a mountain biker, not really, although he owns one. I question his credentials. No doubt some of the Bike Wild signatories have mountain bikes sitting in the garage and meander about on them from time to time on a mellow dirt road. But I have a white cotton robe in my clothes closet, and yet that does not make me a martial arts expert.

    Now, your next point:

    “I and many of my . . . friends cherish time spent in Wilderness. Those special places allow for amazing opportunities . . . [and] wilderness allows us to put away the cell phones and travel at nature’s pace for once—which is a thoroughly vanishing experience.”

    The error here is to assume that you’ll lose the experience of traveling as you prefer if everyone else isn’t forced to visit Wilderness the way you want them to. Such an argument reminds me of the thinking of the same-sex-marriage opponents (we’ve just gone through a long debate on this issue here in California) who claim there shouldn’t be same-sex marriage because it will ruin their traditional marriages. It’s an absurd argument. Yours, with all respect, is analogous and is simply unpersuasive.

    Of course, as you experience bicycle-accessible Wilderness you’ll have to yield mentally a bit, i.e., to the extent of perhaps seeing a bicycle on a Wilderness trail from time to time in a week’s backpacking trip. It is not too much to ask. You already do that when you see a jet contrail over a Wilderness area, and I don’t think seeing the occasional bicycle will ruin your experience unless you’re doggedly determined to let it do so.

    There’s a balance to be struck here. Often these things are resolved through the political process. I do think that the position you take would fail in the court of public opinion, and eventually policymaking will reflect that.

  25. MontanaBiker – The concept of Wilderness B doesn’t suggest that bikes should be allowed in all Wilderness, instead it advocates for a sister designation to the current USFS interpretation of the 1964 Wilderness Act that would allow for all human-powered activity, yet eliminate any commercial development or resource extraction.

    In essence, Wilderness B IS the middle ground you so sagely suggest. It would allow a large and vocal conservation group to rally behind the Wilderness concept instead of in opposition to it while still allowing the Wilderness ranks to declare victory top their internal stakeholders and corporate supporters.

    We’re all activists? I’m a father of two with two jobs and barely enough time to eat, read or sleep. I’m simply crying foul on an outdated policy. But instead of lobbing potshots in from the perimeter I’m offering a solution, one that could potentially DOUBLE the amount of land protected at a Congressional and therefore inviolable level. What solution have YOU offered?

    Implying that us “activists” are imply are simply a fringe group and not top be taken seriously actually says a fair bit more about you than it does about us.

  26. Mike

    When I said you are missing my point I said it may be my fault–not a fault of yours. I may have not presented my perspective in a way that was clear enough.

    The problem with mountain biking which is similar to the problem we now experience with ORVs. There was no public hearing or government EIS to determine whether use of these trails by mountain bikes and/or ORVs was appropriate. In most cases, use was established without any oversight. Basically if you could go there, than you did. Routes were established without any kind of public oversight.

    Unfortunately this failure on the part of the government agencies has created the situation you experience today whereby you feel you are being denied access that you thought you had.

  27. George- Thanks for reading. But if you agree with me, why insist on keeping mountain bikes out of Wilderness?

    Look at the cogent arguments and thoughtful statements from the mountain bikers commenting here. Arent those the types of people you want advocating for the protection of public land? Jeez, don’t you want Mike McCormack on your side? What a great ally he (and we) would be! Unless the point of Wilderness is to protect land from all people (it isn’t), then exclsuion of mountain bikes from Wilderness isnt supported by the language or intention of the Wilderness Act.

    I wont reiterate the arguments but I will say this. The anti-bike Wilderness advocates keep citing some nebulous and nostalgic notion of ‘communing with nature in a quiet way.’ This is entirely a subjective concept and frankly a meaningless and judgemental argument.

  28. George, this may be the most clever “pull the wool over their eyes” arguments going. The arrogant premise that somehow we don’t even understand that we didn’t have the right to be there in the first place. It’s not true and irrelevant.

    What I’d like to see are some concrete arguments explaining the misty cloud of emotional Wilderness experience, where it was the intent of the Wilderness Act and why mountain biking “threatens” it. When I read the Wilderness Act I see a pretty clear picture of intent, and today, hypocritical and discriminatory enforcement.

    With our society today becoming so increasingly disconnected with nature, I find it deplorable that some fight so hard to further deny access. Or is that the very problem causing the disconnect?

  29. I agree with the commenters who contend that wilderness advocates and mountain bikers have a lot in common. However, the fact is that only a tiny percentage of the United States is roadless land qualified for wilderness designation. Even if we designated all of the qualified lands, it would be maybe 5 percent of the lower 48 states, and almost all of it is in the West. That is a very small portion of the land base. Wilderness advocates are trying to maximize wilderness because they are desperate to save a tiny remnant of wild America. Perhaps they are a little overzealous at times, but they are fighting for tiny scraps of wild America that are quickly disappearing.

    The most important purpose of wilderness is not recreation — as important as that is — it is the preservation of intact ecosystems and natural processes. This is all the more vital as we begin to recognize the impacts of climate change. From a biological standpoint, the less we do to hinder native ecosystems in wilderness areas, the better. These areas are already seriously compromised by many internal and external impacts. Adding mountain bikes to existing uses, such as livestock grazing and horses — which never should have been allowed in wilderness in the first place — would just make things worse.

    That said, I do think that mountain biking advocates have many legitimate points. And as someone who falls in the wilderness advocate category, we could do a lot better job of working with mountain biking advocates toward common goals. As has been pointed out, there are alternate designations for land protection. For example, National Preserves are basically National Parks with a few specific exceptions provided for in the authorizing legislation. There are numerous areas across the country where we could designate a large area as a National Park and Preserve with a wilderness overlay for roadless areas. There would still be plenty of space for mountain bike trails — and a limited road system, for that matter. This is the approach that was used with most Alaska parks, and it could work in many other places.

    So I think there is a third way, instead of the wilderness-or-nothing approach. If wilderness advocates had reasonable assurance that they could protect most of an area’s wilderness values in a well-managed National Preserve, they may be more likely to compromise a little wilderness to protect the larger whole. And if mountain bikers knew that they might have to give away some trail mileage for wilderness, but would be assured permanent access to vast National Preserve lands outside of wilderness, they might feel the same way.

    Just a few thoughts to add to the discussion.

  30. George has done a superb job, as he so often does, nudging an omnibus bill that would protect ecologically and recreationally intact wilderness. There was a time when wilderness may have been only about protecting landscapes for the vast majority of people who enjoy commiserating with the natural world free of motorized and mechanized vehicles, like mtn bikes, and free of the aggressive and threatening presence of people who view the priviledged use of mtn bikes as superceding the intersts of society at large.

    But today wilderness designation is ever more critical to the present and future well being of North America; Wilderness now stands to play an ever greater ecological role, one that can work at slowing green house gas emission rates, slowing the crisis of biological diversity, and providing refuge for humans and wildlife from the escalating human population, industrialization, and special interest demands to satisfy every corporate scheme and agenda, such as that promoted by dealers and manufacturers, and their paid promoters, of mountain biking.

    The strategies of hypocrisy and distortion are evident amongst those opposing wilderness designation, and those favoring the destruction and disintegration of existing wilderness. Like shoddy reality TV, the opponents of wilderness and advocates of mechanization (like mtn bike vehicle use) abide by no standards and respect no traditions or definitions.

    I too favor equal access and human powered recreation. Even mtn bikers, I suspect, can walk, so they’re welcome to walk and hike into wilderness, but they seem not to be honest enough to admit they want to take their machines with them. Walking and hiking is the greatest form of human power know, and it always will be. Mechanical advantage to power mtn biking is distortion of human power, although not a mtn biker has the courage to admit it.

    One thing mtn bikers are very good at is blatant promotion of selfish interests. “Share the trails”, ladies, gents, kids, with a hurtling chunk of metal and flesh on wheels at 35 km per hour, they bleat. They also excel in denial of conflicts with peaceful nature respecting walkers and hikers, and they are dogmatic in their ignorance of the environmental impacts of biking. In this regard they equal the climate change denialists, and behind the scene, they are fueled and funded by the same kinds of corporations and narrow minded commercial interests.

    Anti wilderness groups have intimitdated many agencies and their personnel, including the Forest Service and some of their staff. If environmental , landscape protection standards are low, and poorly enforced, agencies are inclined to accept, in the name of “managed” use, environmentally destructive activities. They did it with the grazing industry in the mid 1900s and the timber industry in the 60’s-80’s; they caved before the motorized off road onslaught in the 90’s, and they’ve folded before the oil and gas industry in many parts of the west. In some public lands they’re allowed the kitchen sink to be thrown into the mix, with mtn bikers invading some national FOrest lands. Wilderness and roadless lands stand as a bulwark, as a safety network, as a scientifically and socially honest line of defense, against the complete collapse of ecosystem and lands protection standards.

  31. Brian, I failed to mention I’m an avid backpacker and mountaineer as well. Your suspicions are spot on – I can walk. But this isn’t the point.

    You do a great job of explaining why Wilderness is important, but your post still falls short of explaining why mountain bikes (save some popular media images of chunks of metal moving at blazing speeds) will bring it all to its knees.

  32. Is there anybody reading this with lawyering experience who can set up a non-profit corporation for the purpose of raising money to challenge the 1984 administrative ruling banning bicycles in Wilderness? This is the first step. The next step is for a volunteer to call up the rangers in a newly designated Wilderness and explain that he/she is going to conduct a civil disobedience action and ride a newly closed trail. The volunteer would like to receive a citation to take to court. The next step would be to go to federal magistrate court, where a conviction is inevitable. The steps after that are the appeals process, all the way to the US Supreme Court, if needed.

    I have no experience with this, so that is where well thought out lawyering is needed, hence the need for the above mentioned non-profit corporation. That corporation needs to raise money from companies like Trek, SRAM, Schwinn, etc., and just plain folks willing to contribute tens to hundreds to thousands of dollars. (A good bicycle costs thousands, so why not devote a percentage of every bike sale to trail access issues?) This corporation would also be involved with lobbying efforts, perhaps a PAC that would send money to political office candidates, etc. This legalized form of bribery is what runs our country.

    Money Talks, Bulls**t Walks. End of story.

  33. George,
    I appreciate the effort you have gone through through to inform us on the status on the Omnibus Wilderness Bill, but I have to admit I was shocked by the utterly gratuitous slam at mountain bikers. The whole post could be written without the derogatory aside, without impacting the rest of the post.

    Now the column is open to being hijacked to the bikes in the Wilderness feud which I feel a need to contribute to.

    As you have mentioned in the comments, many wilderness advocates consider themselves mountain bikers, most mountain bikers consider themselves wilderness advocates.

    Just a few of my comments. As far as I can tell none of the mountain bikers posting here are advocating riding in wilderness.

    The Colorado group is supporting the designation of more wilderness where they can ride.

    While most of the population supports more wilderness, most of those supports assume that wilderness is open to all human powered endeavors. Also it is easy to support to wilderness if it has no impact on life. I could support wilderness designation for Central Park since I don’t ride there.

    Arguing that we will only lose a few trail is not always true. Under NREPA the area around where I live would lose the majority of the trails (especially the few remaining scenic trails open to bikes) in a county the is already 1/3 wilderness.

    Using mountain bike assisted hunting as a rationalization is out there. Yes there is some truth there, and some of my friends do it, but on FS roads not trails. Getting an elk out on by bike on a wilderness trail is stretching it. Especially compared to horse supported hunting camps miles into the backcountry.

    I get concerned when people determine what is the appropriate way to enjoy the outdoors and wilderness, placing their biases in place of actual impact.

    There is a spectrum of bikers from casual around town riders to shuttle supported free riders, with the differences between the motorized crowd blurring at the extreme downhill edge. But these aren’t the people riding hours into the backcountry. No one goes for a 10 hour ride carrying your bike when the trail get to gnarly if all they want are thrills.

    Finally I have to take issue with the idea that getting a thrill, enjoying an adrenaline rush or an endorphin rush is less appropriate way to experience the backcountry than reverential contemplation. I still confuse my firs with yews and have a hard time differentiating the various lichens. I admit that I like to go fast. I like to sweat. That’s why I telemark rather than tour, kayak rather than flat water canoe, and why I prefer biking to hiking. Still I have had rides interrupted by an excellent huckleberry patch, and once when we discovered a patch of lady slipper orchids. Until then I didn’t Montana had orchids. I believe our differences are a matter of degrees and emphasis rather than absolutes.

    We also want wilderness and to protect to land for future generations, while also wanting to have a little low impact fun along the way. Just because we have different ways to have fun doesn’t mean we can’t work together to protect the land.

  34. If it was really about the land then why not setup a permit system where each user into an area has an impact assigned to the user. People would signup for day X on trail X and the FS or BLM would have an impact limit for trail X. That impact limit would allow each user to choose if they are hiking, biking, or riding a horse. Then when the impact limit is reached no more users of any kind would be allowed on the trail.

    Your impact system could be based on mass and acceleration since we all know that F = ma. The amount of force is going to determine how much the trail and environment degrades.

    So on Day X you may be behind 3 horses, 10 hikers, and 7 bikes which translates into the maximum set impact for a trail and told to choose another trail.

    A place like the Sawtooth Wilderness seems a lot less like a wilderness when you get behind 20 horses on a 5 foot wide trail and are walking through 6 inches of dust.

    Wilderness advocates need to get behind an impact based system for lands before they can truly say they are protecting the land.

  35. @ Chris – yes, the Sawtooth is extremely crowded. I prefer backpacking across the highway in the Boulder White Clouds, where bikes, motorized or not, are permitted. Without the Wilderness designation it is far less crowded and the trails are in much better shape. Motorcycles are not permitted on the higher trails so, frequently, you encounter nobody at all. Solitude is easier to find in real wilderness than in big “W” designated Wildernessland. Some want to Wildernize the Boulder White Clouds, which will ruin it by bringing hoards of people. It is already protected enough as a National Recreation Area. The taxpayers bought out the mineral rights and no extractive industries can touch it.

  36. A true wilderness supporter does not ask, “What’s in it for me?”

    A true wilderness supporter does not tout what they have done to “improve” the wilderness for their own benefit.

    A true wilderness supporter cares about preserving wildlands for preservation sake. The goal of Wilderness designation is to preserve these rare ecosystems for all flora and fauna that need an intact landscape to survive.

    Can we as human beings, put our ego-centrism aside for a change and support Wilderness for the sake of wilderness?

  37. George,

    Spin it any way you like, but you bias could not be any more obvious when you close your article with yet another mention that “more and more wildlands are being compromised by mountain bikers who are nothing more than non-motorized thrillcraft”. I am a 40-something, professional, nature loving man who is very much more than a “non-motorized thrillcraft”, which doesn’t even make sense. Yes, I get a deep and spiritual thrill from being in the woods on my bike, for I have found no better way to appreciate the beauty of the world than astride a simple human powered device that has remained fundamentally unchanged for over a century. Your concerns about bicycles being the Pandora’s Box for the doom and destruction of our wilderness is disingenuous and preposterous. If you really believe that, then you better put a fence all the way around our wilderness areas and not let any human spoil them. A simple human powered machine like a bicycle could not be more appropriate for traversing the great expanses of our glorious wilderness, it certainly is no less so than by hiking or on horseback. Clear your mind of your selfish prejudice and think about what all of us together are trying to accomplish. It is certainly not excluding a single user group from participating in the preservation and enjoyment of our wilderness.

  38. Mary: it’s a lot easier to take the “high road” when you’re not excluded from it. If you care about wilderness so much, maybe you could campaign to let mountain bikers back in. This would show how much of a true wilderness supporter you really are.

    As it stands, mountain bikers have everything to lose from having more wilderness designations. Why would we campaign for it? In the lower 48 we currently have around 50-54M acres of wilderness. This alone represents anywhere from 10 to 30% of all public open spaces (depending on what definition you use for open spaces) suitable for hiking, biking and horseback riding. So, the wilderness inane ban on cycling is a big deal. Of course, if you’re one of the unlucky whose historical trails are about to become off limits then it’s even worse.

  39. tom sewell-missoula

    as a wilderness lover, mountain climber, former road bike racer, and avid mountain/road biker, it pisses me off when mountain bikers try to get access to wilderness areas, proposed or already designated. the reason to protect wilderness is not for anyones favorite little sport, whether its hiking, mtn biking, snowmobiles, whatever. the reason to protect our remaining wilderness is for its sake, NOT for our frivilous pastimes. changing the laws to allow mtn bikes in designated wilderness, or enacting watered down compromise legislation, such as “recreation buffer zones” or whatever, only opens a can of worms. next it’ll be the snowmobiles, then motorbikes (which i also am an avid international adventure rider), and who knows what else.

    it reminds me of all the mtn bikers in Nepal i see every year who think they can ride to Everest basecamp, or around Annapurna. Yeah rite! they mostly push the damn things, or pay a porter to carry them. its just too steep mostly.
    we mtn bikers have plenty of places to ride already without jeopardizing the most sacred protection system the world has ever seen, The Wilderness Act of 1964. So, i say NO Bikes in designated Wilderness.

  40. Andrew Brautigam - West Virginia Native

    There are two competing views about Wilderness that most people have. First, some people (like me) see Wilderness as a place for people to interact with (mostly) untouched wild lands and gain a new appreciation for those areas. Those people also recognize the necessity of truly human-free zones for habitat protection, ecology revitalization, etc. It is really just a question of priority. And, if we get right down to it, living a truly environmentally ethical life requires quite a bit more than just appreciative tourism of beautiful areas.

    Other people think that nature should exist for its own sake, wild and untouched by human hands. Strangely, those people want to visit that wilderness (using a car, or a plane, or both) and hike in that wilderness (trampling flora, if off trail, leaving feces, urine, etc) and, any way you slice it, having a significant impact on the land.

    Wilderness advocates that enjoy traveling in wild places have fundamentally compromised their own ideal. Live with that tension, and allow other people the opportunity to use some “wilderness” areas in a low impact way.

    If you don’t want to live with that tension, kill yourself, and allow mother earth to return to her unpeopled state.

  41. Zebulon:

    You obviously missed my point. Wilderness is not for our recreational enjoyment.

    You said it was easy for me to take the “high road” when I am not excluded. I ride a mtn bike but would not think of riding it in a wilderness area. I do not mind being excluded from wilderness as there are many other places to ride. And if you can walk, you are not excluded either.

    The “what’s in it for me” mentality has no place in the Wilderness discussion. If this is taking the high road, then by all means, take it.

  42. Tom
    The issue is as much or more about losing historical access as it is about gaining access. Mountain bikers are very passionate about protecting our precious wilderness, but they are also aware that there is an injustice in the way it is being done. There was no such thing as a mountain bike in 1964, if there had been we would not be having this discussion. Mountain bikes should have never been excluded, including them will in no way allow future invasions of non-human powered machines. Your passtimes may be frivilous, mine are very important. Nepal. Really?

  43. Mary Fay and Tom Sewell,

    You first. Don’t go to any wilderness areas, or even any wild areas that haven’t yet benefited from an official wilderness designation. Preserve them for the native flora and fauna. Set an example for the rest of us to follow. Please advise after you’ve done this for a few years. It’s a small sacrifice to make for the principles you espouse.

  44. Too bad Mike Vandeman isn’t posting. (He’s he best anti- mountain bike advocate in the world) He would argue for a wilderness totally off-limits to humans. There is one here in Idaho, the largest designated Wilderness in the lower 48. The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is so huge there are airstrips in the middle of it along with a few private inholdings. It is mostly off limits to anyone who can’t afford a month long pack horse trip, an airplane ride or raft trip. The last time I was there I drove many miles into it on a “cherry stemmed” 4WD road that leads to a ranger station and a private guest ranch. I walked up a barely used trail to a little known hot spring. I was the only person on the trailhead sign-in sheet for the first half of the month. I saw nobody at all. The trail was barely followable in some places and, if they were legal, a bicycle would mostly be useless ballast.

    The key to ecosystem protection is size, not which mode of transport one uses. With a larger wilderness, a smaller number of people will enter deeply into it. One could argue that bicycles would make it easier for more people to get further into the wilderness, but you could also argue that, since bicycles are useless off-trail, don’t construct any trails where you don’t want people.

    The last time I rode a bicycle in the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, just south of the Frank Church Wilderness, there were some interesting looking trail-less side canyons, but since I was on a bicycle with my gear strapped to it, plus my shoes were cleated and impractical for walking off-trail, I stuck to the designated path. If I was walking with pack and boots, off-trail travel would have been a piece of cake. (Also, you can carry more trash producing stuff in a backpack than on a bike. I’ve been doing both modes for 40 years or so.) I will argue that, since bicycles are pretty much restricted to trails, in areas where you don’t want people walking into sensitive areas, allow only bicycles on the trails, no foot or horse traffic, and construct trails that steer clear of places where you dont want people trampling the plants and animals, maybe leading to a viewpoint where you can look at those places from a safe distance.

  45. Free American Mtn Biker

    Thanks to the mountain bikers who have already posted and pretty much called out Mr. Wuerthner’s weak argument for what it is. I’d like to add one point from a perspective that hasn’t been considered…

    I can’t hike into Wilderness. I am only in my forties, but my knee was surgically repaired 14 years ago, and hiking is just a recipe for long-term agony. My bike however, allows me to travel deep into the woods – further in half a day than any of the day-hikers and further than all but a smaller percentage of the other mtb’ers.

    On my rides I enjoy all of the same experiences that hikers like Mr. Wuerthner claim is unique or apparently reserved only to hikers. Sure, I get a pretty good workout going 40+ miles into the mountains, but that is just one of the multitude of benefits.

    NEWSFLASH: Use of a mountain bike doesn’t lessen the variety OR quality of pleasurable sensations people experience when deep in the mountains.

    Because of my knee issues it has occurred to me that there are many other folks including handicapped folks that care about experiencing our nation’s beautiful wild lands, but Wilderness legislation greatly diminishes their opportunities. Why do hikers think they should be the only ones to enjoy and have access to the wild lands of our beautiful country?

    At the end of the day this is still a free country and bikers are Americans with the same rights as you.

  46. This comment (“it pisses me off when mountain bikers try to get access to wilderness areas”) does not describe the case of West Virginia mentioned in the article above. The area under consideration for wilderness status is currently and historically open to mountain bikers, who have been excellent stewards. Only with the new designation would the land be off limits. This is not a question of mountain bikers trying to get access to wilderness lands, but wilderness designation taking access away from present and past users.

    The bias against mountain bikers demonstrated by statements (such as those above) that suggest bikers don’t have reverence for nature or take stewardship seriously undermines efforts to preserve these lands by putting prejudice before preservation. It also shows that there are many who claim to be experts who have no idea about the issues on the ground. WV – and many another area – has a vibrant community of mountain bikers doing outstanding work to preserve not only access to wild spaces but the spaces themselves. Shame on those who in their ignorance and fear choose to spread stereotypes and misinformation rather than working to preserve existing access and increase preservation for the future.

  47. To all who’ve posted, both pro and con – thank you. While most in the MTB community may not agree with the blanket ban on bicycles in Wilderness, what we can certainly agree upon is the respect that keeping civility in the discourse engenders.

    Despite what some may think, the arguments for more Wilderness don’t fall upon deaf ears. Speaking personally, I hope that the reverse is also true. Some would argue that what’s really at stake is the concept of preservation itself and the we should feel ethically obligated to support the blanket ban, even though it means forgoing access forever. To that group I would say this; if conservation is truly your goal, then let’s also enact a “Wilderness C” designation. Except unlike “Wilderness B” (which is Wilderness with bikes), this designation would strip all human beings of all access. Not a chance in hell, right? Because that’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? Foot access and equestrian access being positioned as somehow more reverent, more appropriate?

    I’m sitting at my desk as I write this and imagining what COULD be. The desk itself is approximately 30×72, so roughly 2200 square inches. Imagine that each of those inches represented a square mile. Now the desk I’m sitting at is one of those faux-Mex cheapos – it looks great from afar, but is actually far from great. It’s heavy, poorly constructed and a bear (an oso?) to move. What it DOES have however is a beautiful fine grain running through the entire topsheet.

    What I’d like you to picture next in these 2200 square miles of hypothetical “Wilderness A” is the tiniest, most subtle grain that runs haphazardly across the desk, following imaginary contours. Imagine it traveling more or less from one end of the desk to the other. Realize that given the scale that we’re talking about that even that is way, way, WAY out of proportion, but for argument’s sake, let’s theorize that this trail is about 150 linear inches (or in this case ‘miles’) long. From a height of even 50 feet in standard forest canopy the trail itself would be all but invisible.

    Let’s say for argument’s sake that this trail is designated “Wilderness B”, or in other words, it allows all silent and human-powered recreation. For our purposes today let’s all agree that we’re talking about bicycles. Traveling at an average of 6-8mph.

    The nature of a 150-mile trails dictates that it won’t see much use, after all, there just aren’t that many people qualified to ride it, kind of like most hikers aren’t capable of trekking in several days to bag a remote fourteener. Certain variables like proximity to large population centers would of course need to be taken into consideration.

    Now think about an imaginary corridor – maybe 24 inches on each side designated from the centerline of our 150 linear mile trail itself. Our hypothetical 4-foot wide, 150-mile long trail would have a footprint of about 3,168,000 square feet. Sounds like an abomination, right? It is. Until you consider that the “Wilderness A” area surrounding it is roughly 60-trillion + square feet in size. The trail itself would claim roughly .00005% of the total square footage.

    Let’s break that down into square miles to see if we can resuscitate the abomination argument. A square mile is about 28 million square feet. Our trail is a bit more than 3 million, so roughly .11 square mile. (Go ahead and check…I’m right.) Now our “Wilderness A” parcel is 2160 square miles…that makes our theoretical trail a bit more than one-tenth of just one of those 2160 square miles.

    Let’s put that in perspective. That would be like you having about $22,000 dollars. Enough to buy a new car. And us having one dollar. Enough to get one of those gumballs from the machine at the grocery store.

    That’s what we’re fighting for. As taxpayers. As fathers, mothers, brother and sisters – our RIGHT to protect that .0005% and enjoy it silently, with little to no impact and with respect and open arms to other human-powered users.

    Ok. And horses.

    Ceding the moral high ground that suggests that somehow allowing cyclists access to that .00005% will equate somehow with mutually assured destruction, barren lifeless landscapes and dreary film noir cinematography is the price the “Wilderness A or Nothing!” lobby will have to pay to bring MILLIONS of mountain bikers from the ranks of the opposed into fanatic supporters OF the Wilderness movement.

    Because the truth is, we don’t harm the flora or fauna. The trail is already there. We don’t harm the wildlife…if anything, we’re lower in the food chain than some of them are.

    You see, it’s not about users, at least certainly not the minimal number of them qualified to access our hypothetical trail whether on foot or on a bicycle – ask ANY USFS district ranger – if there’s food, the animals will eat. It’s about biology. They’ll coexist. They’ll adapt…as they already have. And if you believe otherwise then we need to immediately restrict ALL human activity in these ecosystems, not just bicycles. Singling out one group just doesn’t jibe with the science.

    We’re taking about one-tenth of one square mile. Out of 2160 of them. That’s what it’s going to take. Because you can have your “Wilderness A”, Wilderness or NOTHING! ethic. Or you can have peace. But you cannot have both.


    Now imagine those 2160 square miles surrounded by 2160 MORE miles of Congressionally-designated National Conservation Area or National Scenic Area. Imagine doubling the amount of land falling under inviolable federal protection, forever off limits to drilling, to timber (Yes, Mr. Tester…I said “NO TIMBER”) and to all resource extraction.

    Because that’s what we’ll give you for your .0005%. Political base where such things are as valuable as currency. The removal and 100% conversion of a vocal, critical and sensible opponent of your cause. The ability to demand and expect to receive MORE. We’ll give you millions upon millions of brothers in arms marching up Capital Hill demanding MORE from our elected officials, no matter which side of the aisle they keep their doodle pads on.


    Think about it.

  48. @ Mary Fay (and others with similar opinions) – You should argue for the removal of trails in Wilderness areas, except that the Wilderness Act specifically states that humans should be visitors who do not remain. It does not state that humans should be entirely excluded. If you support a greater degree of Wilderness protection, write to your government representatives and tell them. You will get a lot of opposition from outfitters and other commercial interests that capitalize on Wilderness. In our area I know of one person who is in favor Wilderness designation because he owns property right next to a proposed Wilderness Area and he thinks his property value will go up with an area so designated, close to his land and cabin.

    The romantic notion of a human-free wilderness is entirely a Euro-American invention, which only existed on this continent for a very short time. This was the time between when the native humans were exterminated and when the newcomers resettled the continent. North America has been populated by humans since before the retreat of the last ice-age glaciers. The ecosystems here were influenced by people to a great extent. Some argue we were partly responsible for the extinction of some of the megafauna that lived here. The most recent evidence shows the use of fire to prevent tree growth and encourage grasses in order to attract ungulates that the native people hunted for food. Read “Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature” by Dr. Charles E. Kay, published by the University of Utah Press.

    If you really want a human-free Wilderness, evacuate the entire continent for a few millennia and see what happens. It hasn’t existed for many thousands of years. The place was entirely different. Oh, well, that’s evolution for you. Please remember that human beings are also a product of nature. We just need to learn to live within our means, and the question of excluding bicycles from trails should be the least of our concerns.

  49. NEWS FLASH: Mountain Bicycling is presently allowed in ALL (w)ilderness areas that are not Congressionally designated (W)ilderness areas (obviously there are other restrictions like National Parks – but you get my point)! To use the words interchangably just adds to the spin and confusion – which must come directly from the Wilderness-or-nothing playbook. Desperate measures for desperate times – eh?

    Heaven forbid that bicyclists want to continue to ride their quiet, human powered bicycles on the (w)ilderness trails that we have enjoyed for decades – while also wanting these trails – and associated eco-systems – permanently protected. What a concept!


    As for your statement that “(w)ilderness allows us to put away the cell phones and travel at natures pace for once – which is a thoroughly vanishing experience.”

    Might I suggest that you and your twenty friends just simply leave the cell phones at home, practice modicum of self control out on the trails – and if going at nature’s pace continues to be a problem – more fiber in your diet could be helpful. Maybe Ritalin too.

    Your personal journey out in the (w)oods is what you make it – just don’t inflict your twisted ‘ethic’ on my ride.


  50. Let’s be honest: all the reasons against cycling have nothing to do with science, or the intent of the Act, or how to best enjoy wilderness and everything to do with selfishness. Some hikers and equestrians want to use the current wilderness regulation as a means to get the trails to themselves without sharing with cyclists. That’s it. But since not sharing is not exactly a very endearing argument, especially for grown ups, it gets wrapped up in all kind of convoluted and emotional argument. But at the end of the day, it’s all about a chosen few trying to get the taxpayers to fund their own “private” trails. Truly shameful.

    BTW, it was quite funny to read the backtracking of the OP when others debunked his arguments.

  51. George,

    While I appreciate your thorough analysis of the possible legislative inclusions under the failed system (Omnibus Bill) and your extensive knowledge of the proposed areas is certainly admirable, the mention and endorsement of NREPA makes me question your grip on reality. NREPA is the most socially and environmentally irresponsible pipe dream to come down the pike.

    You state ‘ As a consequence, they (NREPA is) controversial in the states affected, though they have significant support across the nation. NREPA legislation would protect 24 million acres of the finest wildlands in five states including Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon.’ In Montana we are struggling to get 660,000 acres of (W)ilderness appoved – NREPA’s 6 million acres for Montana is a non-starter.

    Can you name one politician in any of the aforementioned states that supports NREPA? Without such support – how is this concept ever going to fly? By being introduced by a New York politician and sneaking it in under cover? Please!

    A bigger question looming on our public lands is how we handle the millions and millions of acres beetle killed trees that will eventually bury our trails systems. Protect it as (W)ilderness and we’ll be buck-sawing our way into the backcountry for the next millennium. It will be true (w)ilderness alright as only the truly motivated, retired or unemployed will have the time or energy to venture there. Maybe that is the answer – that no human ventures into the (W)ilderness.

    NO WAIT! – didn’t the legislative language in the new Hidden Gems (W)ilderness Proposal in Colorado just allow chain saws? In proposed (W)ilderness? Hmmmm! Why-oh-why would the (W)ilderness proponents want chainsaws but not continued bicycle use in this WILD place? Could it be that the two tiered class system hypocritically favors hiking and equestrian use over the equally quiet, low impact and human powered bicycles on our PUBLIC lands?

    The logical progression here is that (W) + B is a politically and environmentally viable solution to end the land conservation / access gridlock we have suffered through for far too long. Well written legislation that provides the same permanent protections as (W)ilderness but allows bicycles could protect more land than a (W)ilderness designation ever could – and would have a MUCH larger base of supportive and voting conservation activists (bicyclists). Hello?

    Bicycles, and possibly chain saws, will be key to any successful future land protection legislation – permanent protection. National Protection Areas or Conservation Management Areas are not precedent setting ideas but rather conservation solutions that are available to us now. Let’s embrace this concept and get to work protecting our treasured landscapes. Enough time, money and good will have already been squandered.

  52. Bob:

    I won’t be able to respond to all the questions you raised in your post, (I have to do other work for my job) but I will take a stab at your NREPA question.

    Lack of support in affected states is not a reason to believe such legislation is unrealistic. A reading of conservation history demonstrates that nearly all worthwhile conservation legislation was opposed by the locals–whether that is in the state or region.

    You ought to go back and read the commentary by western senators when national forests were first established. There was the universal opposition using the very same arguments one hears today used against wilderness, national monuments, and so forth. Indeed, the arguments are remarkably similar–and haven’t changed in a hundred and thirty years. You’ll read about “lock up” and “lack of access” , how these forests will “cripple” economic development and “selfish easterners” and so forth.

    Similarly there was no state Congressional support for the creation of Grand Teton NP, Olympic NP, Grand Canyon NP, Canyonlands NP, Glacier NP, Wrangell-St Elias NP, Gates of the Arctic NP and so forth. My list would get quite lengthy if I were to list every conservation success that was created without widespread local support.

    In fact, it seems to be the norm. In other words, the best conservation legislation is usually legislation that is opposed locally. Why? Because most locals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. If the legislation does not propose any major changes in management–why bother with it? So naturally you find limited local support for good legislation.

    I suspect if you were honest, you would have to conclude that all of these parks and our system of national forests, etc. is on the whole a good thing.

    Interestingly, Senator Jon Tester’s Forest and Jobs bill is far more radical in what it proposes than NREPA–other than the size of NREPA. It calls for mandated logging quotas (which is why it is having trouble garnering support outside of Montana). By contrast, all NREPA does is codify the Roadless rule by giving permanent wilderness protection to the roadless areas which Congress has already shown it supports as well the majority of Americans.

    When viewed this way, NREPA seems very plausible and certainly worthy of support.

  53. Bob you have suggested that all non-wilderness areas have always been open to biking. That’s true, but so are most of these areas open to logging snowmobiles, and so forth before they designated wilderness. That doesn’t mean logging, mining, snowmobiles, etc. should be permitted in wilderness, nor should areas be disqualified because of these activities–even areas previously logged, mined, etc. can sometimes be included in wilderness.

    One difference between mountain biking and logging, mining, etc., is that at least the FS or BLM goes through a public review and environmental review process before it permits any logging, oil drilling, etc.

    There has been little review of mountain biking prior to use. MB have simply started using trails, creating trails, and so forth often without any public participation or environmental review. In most cases, I suspect, in most places, MB would raise little or no opposition. But in some places such those areas long proposed for wilderness protection, if such a process were in place, the use would never have gotten started.

    The resultant conflict is unfortunate, and largely a consequence of how public lands agencies have failed to manage the growing use of mountain bikes. It’s very difficult to tell someone that they can’t do something they have gotten used to doing–and that is the situation we have now.

  54. The problem with NREPA is again the confusion between preserving wilderness and designating Wilderness. A much more nuanced approach needs to be taken to preserving our heritage than the cudgel of the Wilderness designation. Eventually the whole idea of a Wilderness Area is being cheapened by protecting any roadless area with the Wilderness designation. In areas where I direct knowledge of the NREPA proposed boundaries. The Wilderness boundary will abut the wildland urban interface. It seems ridiculous to say that wilderness starts 100 yards from a subdivision. This again points to need for buffer zones around core wilderness areas. For wilderness to start on a busy trailhead a mile from a city seems to inappropriate to me. On many hikes in the Bitterroot I need walk(yes I hike along with biking) in several miles before I hit the boundary and by then it feels like wilderness. Town is far behind and the solitude and majesty is there.

    George, you seem to believe that no local buy in is necessary. If anything the experience in protecting land in the third world has show the necessity of local buy in to be successful. As far as opposition to previous NPs and National Forests, it shows that there is a need to different levels of protection and and a need to get some local buy in. Timber extraction didn’t end with National Forests, and lodges were built to attract tourists in National Parks. The whole west wasn’t designated a National Park. Not all public lands are National Forest, some lands are BLM.

    The debate is not about preservation versus exploitation, but about the best way to to protect the land.

  55. As far as NREPA goes, I don’t support making dead forests into Wilderness Areas OR “wildlife corridors”. They simply are not suitable for such uses. If the lands don’t meet the standards set in the Wilderness Act, they should not be designated as such. The idea that “wildlife corridors” can expand a population’s range is dubious, at best. Does anyone really think, with climate change having an effect, that “suitable habitat” will actually exist when the migrating endangered flora and fauna actually gets there?

    Regarding Omnibus Bills, they aren’t quite the porkfest that they used to be. During the Obama Administration’s first year, the Omnibus Bill failed to get the votes it needed in the Senate. So, the Democrats attached the entire Omnibus Bill into an amendment on a bill that had already passed the Senate, requiring only a 50% majority. Included in that amendment was a trade of Forest Service prime forestland for cutover lands elsewhere, to allow a mega-developer to build a new ski resort on Mount Hood.

  56. Lance

    At the risk of further side track, let me suggest that local buy in would be great, but it shouldn’t discourage people from advocating good legislation without it.

    The end of slavery in the South did not have local buy in. But was it was a bad thing? And certainly the Civil Rights battles of the 60s were largely done again over opposition from many in the South, particularly politicians like George Wallace.

    To bring it closer to home I can remember when locals in Columbia Falls Montana opposed efforts to reduce fluoride pollution from the aluminum plant there–despite evidence that it was affecting people’s health. In the Silver Valley of Idaho, locals opposed regulation of smelter emissions even though their kids were being poisoned by lead. And so it goes.

    In fact, I think we can generally agree that a lot of the best and most progressive legislation passed in this nation was done over the objections of locals.

    So I ask you to consider do you really think the creation of Grand Teton NP a bad thing? Check out the history of the park–the Congressional delegation in Wyoming went so far as to introduce a bill to designate the park. Today, I think most people in Wyoming as well as the rest of the nation are glad that the locals didn’t win that one.

    Was the creation of Glacier NP a bad thing? Read the comments from Montanans at that time, particularly in the Kalispell area about how this was going to ruin the economy and how it “excluded” people “locked them out” from the land.

    Was the creation of national forests a bad thing? I will be happy to send you some comments from various western senators who predicted the creation of national forests (some of which by the way go to the borders of towns) was going to ruin the economy of the West, and so forth.

    I think in retrospect we find that these were all worthwhile and most of us today don’t even debate about these places.

    My point is that the weight of history is on the side of NREPA. And if NREPA never gets passed, I guarantee you that future generations will view it as a missed opportunity.

  57. “There has been little review of mountain biking prior to use. MB have simply started using trails, creating trails, and so forth often without any public participation or environmental review.”

    When has there been a public review of the impact of hiking and horse impacts? All users are guilty of creating trails, hikers generally create trail to the top of peaks or other view points. There are many miles of hiking trails that go straight up peaks with no regard for grade. Horse users do not want to be restricted to trails and feel they are entitled to go anywhere at anytime. During the Wilson Creek EA process the BLM tried to restict horse users to the existing trails, but the horse users fought this and forced the ammendment of the EA. Mountain Bikers were simply happy to use the trails. Just google Wilson Creek EA.

    It is ridiculous that wilderness advocates are always quoting that a majority of people are in favor of wilderness or that every single wilderness advocate that comments or talks in reference to mountain bikes always say they are avid mountain bikers just because they have a bike in the garage.

    Read through one of those wilderness surveys that is conducted and you will not find an instance where they actually explain what wilderness is and what restrictions it imposes on the land and users. They don’t do this because they are afraid of the results, because the fact is that most suburban dwellers have no idea what wilderness means. I was one of those people, before I moved from New England to Idaho in my early 20s I always assumed wilderness simply mean’t no motors.

    I will try and find a wilderness survey that was paid for by a wilderness group to illustrate my point.

    The wilderness debate is changing, there are more kids who bike then backpack. Frankly if a bike can get a kid away from an xbox and into a wilderness then we would be stupid to turn him or her away. The framers of the original wilderness act wanted these areas to be enjoyed by all Americans not a select few.

  58. Geo –

    Are you seriously comparing a solution and consensus-building minded on-the-ground movement to find a practical middle ground, one that would actually protect far more land and all the landscapes, flora, fauna and wildlife contained therein to the opposition slavery and civil rights faced?

  59. It all boils down to this: “If we allow mountain biking, then that is a foot in the door for strip mining.” The “all or nothing” argument is so tiresome and hampers (w)ilderness preservation. I bet the extractive industries are happy with the Wilderness Act as it is currently interpreted. It is so restrictive that it has less chance of being implemented more widely, so it doesn’t hamper their efforts to clear cut and strip mine everything.

    If NREPA and other proposals allowed mountain biking within it’s boundaries they would have literally millions more supporters. Think about that.

    If you are opposed to mountain biking, you support clear cutting and strip mining.

  60. Arne and others:

    Wilderness designation is difficult enough without your opposition.

    I would greatly appreciate your efforts in helping conservation efforts along. Perhaps I am not up to speed, but I can’t recall a significant conservation proposal from the mountain bike community (which doesn’t reduce wilderness potential designation).

    Aren’t there some lands we are not going to argue over about wilderness designation that could satisfy your desire for single track trails and so on, but which might otherwise be compromised by future and/or even past development? Certainly it appears to me there are opportunities on many of our public lands for such proposals. Lands that would never qualify as wilderness, but have high conservation values. Lands that may have been logged, mined, or whatever in the past, but could with time recover their conservation values.

    I am thinking of many lands in the Oregon Coast Range, parts of various mountain ranges in the Rockies like the Whitefish Range by Glacier, the Deer Creeks near Big Timber Montana, portions of the Big Belts and Little Belt Mountains in Montana, parts of the Bighorn Range in Wyoming, portions of the Sierra Nevada in California, much of the land around Mt. Shasta in northern California, parts of North Idaho’s national forests, much of the land on the Boise NF outside of Boise, Idaho, quite a bit of the Malheur NF in Oregon, and so forth.

    These are only a few places where I suspect there would be great opportunities to make new conservation designation that would generate support from folks like me, and that would help to establish MB as a major conservation force. The opportunity is there, and it might be more fruitful for all of us if we could focus on those opportunities.

    I am familiar with such areas that I could name. Places that I know are not within anyone’s wilderness proposal, but which nevertheless would benefit from more protection as some non-wilderness status.

    Instead of trying to prevent wilderness designation, could you put your extensive energies towards more protection? There are certainly a lot of opportunities. And as a mountain biker myself, I would love to see more of these opportunities for both mountain biking and conservation goals.

  61. Geo – the lands you just described fit the Hidden Gems proposal here in Colorado to a tee. They’ve been mined, grazed, clearcut, have power lines running through them, directly abut communities and are in plain sight if major highways. Yet the Hidden Gems people have made no bones about that fact that they’re lessening the restrictive definition of Wilderness in order to rationalize the inclusion and secure the Wilderness designation for these parcels.

    Why do we not have our own proposal? Possibly because our energies as volunteers and those of the comparatively young advocacy organization IMBA are consumed with demanding accountability from the well funded (in the words on one of the members of the Hidden Gems executive board “Whatever it takes.”), strategically overreaching (we’ll ask for a million acres just so we can get 300,000), “just us, not anyone else, not now, not ever” proposals you guys keep firing out into the political ether.

    Invest in true compromise instead of insisting that we swing all the way over to your way of thinking and you’ll start seeing Congressionally protected acreage double.

  62. Geo, about you start putting some of energy to support mountain biking in wilderness? Cyclists are really tired of pushed to the back of the trail bus. If you really cared about protecting wilderness, you’d figure a way to include us in the process. But the “cyclists support wilderness because it’s a worthy cause, eventhough you will lose out in the process” is not going to work. You’ll have to compromise first.

  63. @ Geo – We try, but that isn’t good enough. The “Gold Standard” is to allow hikers and equestrians only. For example, the (W)ilderness advocates want to close trails to bicycles in the rest of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, even though the area cannot be logged or mined, as the taxpayers bought out the mineral rights. No new roads can be constructed, but that isn’t good enough. It is still “threatened’ in some way, so all of it must become (W)ilderness. This will be the location of my civil disobedience action if such legislation is passed. I am sick of it. Not another inch.

    (As a side note, the 200th anniversary of the invention of the mountain bike is in 2017. Karl von Drais’ invention was intended to patrol the forests he was in charge of in Germany. Bicycling is not a recent use in (w)ilderness)

  64. Geo (I assume you’re not George Wuerthner; is this right?),

    The International Mountain Bicycling Association has engaged in numerous cooperative ventures with Wilderness advocates along the lines you propose. I don’t work for IMBA, though I’m proud to be an IMBA member, and I have only vague recollections about these joint ventures, but I think one was undertaken in Virginia. IMBA has in fact established mountain bikers as a major force for conservation at the national level.

    Most of us would prefer not to oppose capital-W Wilderness designations, but the Wilderness purists insist that any new Wilderness legislation not permit bicycles to be grandfathered in, and that a legally unjustifiable 1977 Forest Service rule be kept in place to keep us out of existing Wildernesses. These stances reflect dogged prejudices like the bikes-as-thrillcraft notion that George Wuerthner began this thread with. You can hardly expect us to give up treasured trails simply to satisfy such prejudices.

    There is something quite strange about the purist Wilderness movement’s crotchety obsession against bicycles. It reflects a temperance-movement attitude in which the wheel plays the part of demon rum. As Arne Ryason observes, no one is going to yield a single inch in service of such loony tub-thumping. Bear in mind, please, that you can’t even get people to give up oversized vehicles or Caribbean cruises in furtherance of the legitimate goal of stopping the liquefaction of the Arctic ice shield. So you’re not going to get people to give up the physical and psychic rewards of the salutary sport of mountain biking just because some Carrie Nations demand it out of a quixotic and Puritanical fixation on the evils of the wheel, a fixation that’s wholly out of sync with both empirical evidence and human experience.

    There have been some excellent posts on this thread. My thanks to those who’ve made them. As for those who insist they’re avid or adamant mountain bikers who just happen to favor excluding bicycles from existing and new Wilderness everywhere, I frankly don’t believe your stated credentials, and I doubt anyone else does either.

  65. Arne is right we could preserve an area from mining, logging, and development and the Wilderness advocate would want it to be a Wilderness area in 10 years.

    NREPA would be an economic disaster for Idaho. The recreation and hunting industry in Idaho would collapse within years. Towns like Stanley, Lowman, Salmon, and many others would become ghost towns. All of the lands in NREPA are already protected under the Idaho Roadless Rule there is no threat from logging or mining.

    If the New York delegation wants a NREPA they can create one right there in New York first.

  66. George,

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses.

    So here we are at the cusp of 2011. Mountain biking has been established and cherished in wild, backcountry areas that have been long sought after for (W)ilderness protection but legislative bills have languished unresolved for decades. We cannot turn back the clocks to address land management decisions made decades ago – we can only move forward in a way that draws wisdom from the past with a new view of what legislative land protection can be in the future. Failing to do so will doom society to the gerbil wheel of previous missteps and mistakes.

    So what are we going to do?

    Keeping in mind that (W)ilderness is not a religion or first amendment right but a land protection tool – what are WE protecting with a Congressional (W)ilderness designation that cannot be accomplished with a well written, strongly worded, legally binding and collaboratively supported companion designation that offers the SAME protection from mining, logging, new roads, structures and expanded motorized use but still allows bicycling on SOME important routes within the proposed landscape? Are these not the goals of the (W)ilderness advocate? What IS the argument here? Anybody? Is it the color of my skin – er – mode of quiet recreation you reject?

    It must be pointed out that nowhere in this thread have I read a position from a (w)ilderness bicycle advocate who spoke of opening existing (W)ilderness areas to a bicycle free-for-all. So much time, money and good will has been spilled over this battle line – it has been beaten to death. The message that the (W)ilderness advocates are hopefully hearing from the cycling community is that there is a better way to manage bicycles on public lands – and that the bicycling community is a HUGE conservation community that can help protect more deserving landscapes – including new bicycling banning (W)ilderness areas. We do, however, want to be at the table when future access is discussed about trails we’ve ridden for decades without issue. Just because questions are being asked of the sacrosanct Big W, Wilderness advocates should not circle the wagons with fear mongering and saber rattling. Now is the time to identify and unify our common interests.

    So like it or not – bicycles have a twenty five + year history on some of our most precious backcountry trails around the country – why not embrace that collective (w)ilderness experience and expertise by bringing bicyclists to the table to create something we can all support and pass on to future generations? The bicyclists that venture into the backcountry do so for the same reasons that hikers and equestrians – to seek solitude, savor the beauty, to enjoy a physical challenge. Please keep the thrill craft gymnasium analogy to yourself – we are talking about an invested citizenry that cares deeply about their local (and distant) watersheds, wildlife and forest health because they have been to these areas on their bicycles – and will return again in the future. I can’t think of a better bunch of folks to help keep an eye on our public lands.

    As far as National Parks – Kudos to IMBA and the Park Service for signing an agreement to explore more bicycle options in our Parks. Not in my wildest Jellystone dreams do I want to ride on remote trails into sensitive areas but I’d rather be torn to shreds by a grizz on a ride along a quiet power line cut or access road than be squished out on the pavement by a Hawaiian shirt wearing, RV driving motorhead.

    You ask what has the cycling community done in the name of Wilderness? Montana cyclists under the banner of IMBA submitted written testimony at the initial hearing of Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act on December 17th that supported 95 percent of the proposed Wilderness acreage – despite grave reservations about the process that excluded bicyclists from the table. The remaining 5 percent consisted boundary adjustments and corridors requested by the cycling community to protect important routes on a trail-by-trail basis – not just a broad blanket banishment. Of the 1000 +/- miles of trails to be closed to bicycles in the bill, the cycling community asked for roughly 70 miles of trails to be excluded from Wilderness consideration but protected under a companion designation. As of today only about 15 miles of consideration have been given in the current FJRA maps to the cycling requests – other simple suggestions and conversations remain in limbo – like the bill. I don’t know about you – but this DOES feel like a big shout out of support to the Wilderness folks by the cycling community that was not reciprocated?!

    I’m glad that you site the Civil Right Act, which was also passed in 1964, and was subsequently strengthened and tweaked years later by the 14th and 15th amendments because society had further evolved and matured. Maybe its time to look at public land management through the same looking glass.

  67. Awestruck.

  68. Bob

    Come up with some proposals and let’s see them. If you avoid areas that have been proposed for wilderness, I bet we’d have some agreement. I was just thinking of the Bangtail Hills between Bozeman and Livingston as the kind of place that could be given some strong conservation protection, is not part of any wilderness proposal, yet could be designated a mountain biking area–indeed, it could be one of the major reasons for some kind of protective designation.

    Surely there are many other opportunities like that around the country. Come up with 10 or 20 areas like that around the country to work on, and I bet you would find a lot of support.

  69. Squeak, squeak goes the gerbil wheel…

  70. You don’t get it George. We want to link arms. You want to shun us to our own “mountain biking areas”?

    As Mike McCormack already stated, maybe we could come up with a proposal to call our own if we weren’t so busy already fighting the numerous current proposals that look to ban mountain bikers access on lands and on trails that we mountain bikers have helped maintain for decades.

  71. George – what you’re overlooking is that there’s an almost complete nationwide moratorium on trail construction due to budget shortfalls in every single land management agency. In other words, they just aren’t making any more. What’s there is there. And the solution that you offer along with your deeply embedded bias against mountain bikes (“Thrillcraft?”) is that we simply accept the situation as is instead of acting as agents for positive change.

    Shoot – we aren’t even asking for more access, just to preserve the access we already have. And you keep lobbing up arguments like “Well, you were never really intended to be there in the first place.” and “Allowing bicycles in opens up a Pandora’s Box of other unsavory types that might want in.” and (this is my favorite) “My experience would be compromised if mountain bikes were allowed on my favorite trails.”

    I’m also glad that the fight for civil rights was invoked, because a lot of what you say, even in the face of well-reasoned arguments raised in respectful disagreement, amounts to nothing more than baseless bigotry against another user group. You’ve yet to offer one compelling or practical reason NOT to explore what appears to be an opportunity to align likeminded user groups in the service of protection even more public land at a Congressional level.

    And your last argument? “If you want to convince me, go find some land of your own to protect.” It seems as if you’re grasping at straws. That’s it? Really? “We saw it first!” THAT is your argument?

    Settle in George. It’s gonna be a long haul.

  72. George, How about a friendly wager since you seem so confident they are going to pass an omnibus lands bill. If the bill passes I will write a nice pro-wilderness oped into the newspaper, but if it does not pass you need to write an article about mountain bikers and wilderness advocate working together on land preservation.

    Maybe a couple other posters will up the ante and agree to some opeds.

  73. George,
    I wandered over the NREPA pages and found the map for around my home in Ravalli County.

    The county is already about 50% Forest Service. Half of the Forest Service is already wilderness. Under NREPA around2/3 of the FS not designated Wilderness will become designated, leaving I’m guess 10 – 15% open. You want us to then propose to set aside even more of the small portion protected to show our good faith.

    Under NREPA, about the only remaining ride that I can find would be the 8 mile loop around Coyote Coulee. Even the well established partially pabed trail around the lake where motorized boating is allowed would be become wilderness.

    We aren’t talking about a few trails with bikers having plenty of places to ride. We are talking about the effective banning of single track mountain biking in the Bitterroot.

    Every area we ride will be closed. Sleeping Child: Closed. Blue Joint: Closed Blodgett Canyon: Closed. Allan Mountain Closed. When you add in the closures in the Big Hole and the Sapphires Can you recommend where we else could possibly find an all day singletrack ride within a 50 mile radius?

    I can’t believe that 85% of the Bitterroot National Forest needs Wilderness designation, and that there isn’t a single area within the proposal that could be equally protected with another designation.

    This is what we are talking about. Nearly all the proposed lands deserve protection but making them all Wilderness dilutes the brand too much. Wilderness surrounding the most popular lake in the Bitterroots. This is what happens when people far away use maps to make proposals. This is why local input with all stakeholders is key, and why proposals from mountain bikers cut into the proposed wilderness; there is no where else to go.

  74. There is at least one constructed (W)ilderness that needs to be re-opened to bicycle use. It was one of my first “mountain bike” experiences in 1971-72. It was called a “recreational” (not primitive) Wilderness, and in 1984 mountain bikers were LIED to and told, “don’t bother coming to the hearings, we won’t close any trails,” but that is exactly what they did. I am referring to the Philip Burton Wilderness in Point Reyes National Seashore. This area was used for mining (a couple of claims on the old maps), dairy ranching and logging before being turned over to the feds. Many of us rode it, legally, up until 1984 and illegally after that. I would cite the 9th Amendment as a defense. Most of the “trails” are actually double track ranch roads. I was never caught by rangers after 1984, but paranoia caught up with me and I decided to quit riding there. This was part of my reasoning in the move to Idaho. I miss those rides dearly. I never used a car to get there when I rode those trails (I couldn’t afford one at the time). This was always the highlight of a ride that started where I lived in central Marin County.

    A few years ago some cyclists I know were busted for riding on one of those ex-ranch roads by rangers in a 4WD vehicle. The rangers were there investigating a possible drowning, so their motor vehicle use is covered in the Wilderness Act, but it is ironic that a truck is allowed in a so-called Wilderness where bicycles are not. I urged the cyclists to fight their convictions and appeal, but they did not, probably due to the cost, trouble and intimidating nature of the federal legal process.

    In this case I believe (W)ilderness designation was used as a political tool, so those who can afford to wine, dine and otherwise legally bribe their politician friends can exclude those who aren’t part of their club.

    An excellent analysis of the Point Reyes situation is found in this paper, published in the Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, 1 January 2002. It is “The trouble with preservation, or, getting back to the wrong term for wilderness protection: a case study at Point Reyes National Seashore.” By Laura A. Watt, PhD. A couple of quotes:

    “One senator questioned the appropriateness of calling areas with so many human-made encumbrances and nonconforming uses “wilderness,” suggesting that the original intent of the Wilderness Act had eroded to the point where any place, even downtown Manhattan, could be designated (U.S. Congress 1976, p. 308-9). Yet his concerns were not shared by the other representatives, the NPS, or the public.”

    “The tendency of wilderness management–and most natural resource preservation in general–to eliminate human history from the landscape makes for bad public policy. It negates our relationship with the land and creates an unrealistic separation between nature and culture. Cronon (1995, p. 85) writes, “The wilderness dualism tends to cast any use as ab-use, and thereby denies us a middle ground in which responsible use and nonuse might attain a kind of balanced, sustainable relationship.”

    This would be my first choice for re-opening formerly legal “trails” to bicycle use in so-called (W)ilderness, or at least “cherry stem” them out of such designation. Point Reyes is why I have had an interest in this subject for the last 26 years. I won’t quit.

  75. Mountain biking is comparable to hiking?
    Are you kidding?
    Hikers do not descend on trails at high speed, where collisions can and do result in broken bones and life-threatening injuries.
    Speed junkies, whether they are muscle or motor powered are disruptive and damaging to wilderness values. Both threaten the safety of hikers and both cause trail erosion. Yet both proclaim that they “love” wilderness and want to enjoy it on their own terms.
    Bah! Humbug!

  76. Inky, you’re right: hiking and mountain biking aren’t entirely comparable, though they’re similar.

    Hiking in Wilderness areas usually involves multiday backpacking trips, which means setting up and striking tents, building campfires, digging impromptu toilet facilities, washing dishes, engaging in resource extraction activities like fishing, and, of course, lugging the clutter that enables the foregoing to the trailhead in a motor vehicle. I know: I’ve done a ton of backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail.

    Mountain biking has a lighter footprint. Much lighter. I often ride to the trailhead; I don’t need to drive there. Even if I do drive, mountain biking doesn’t involve camping and all of the ecological and wildlife disruption it entails. We travel lightly and quietly and emerge the same day, having left nothing but tire tread marks that will disappear in a day or two.

    And we haven’t even talked about horses and packstock. People trying to construct the Wilderness Act of 1964 proposed building airstrips in Wilderness. The reason? The impact of using airstrips to bring in supplies, they thought, would be lower than the impact of horse and packstock travel! They were probably accurate in that estimation.

    So you’re basically right. Just not the way you think.

  77. What about the way you guys widen trails around puddles (biking etiquette demands riding directly through it), create braided trails, trample flora by going off trail and shortcut switchbacks leaving indelible tracks upon the backcountry? Visited any of Colorado’s 30+ fourteeners lately? – You’ll see EXACTLY what I mean. Nice job, hikers.

    Correct cycling etiquette also dictates that a downhill rider yield to the uphill traveler, be they on bike, on foot or on floating on a rainbow like you.

  78. Hikers drive big SUVs to the trailhead ALL the time, whereas this isn’t always necessary when riding a bicycle. Bicyclists are always in danger when riding on the inches-wide paved road shoulder, being passed at 70 MPH by multi-ton vehicles with inches to spare. Name one hiker killed or injured by a mountain biker and we can probably look up thousands of cyclists killed by motorists who are too LAZY to walk or ride a bicycle. All hikers walk off trail, hopping over rocks and logs, trampling plants, insects and other animals, cutting switchbacks and causing erosion, whereas cyclists always stick to trails, making land managers’ jobs easier. Try riding a bike over a boulder. Maybe one biker in a million can do it, but millions of hikers are capable of scrambling over boulders, scraping off ancient lichen colonies and destroying delicate cryptobiotic soil which takes decades, if not centuries, to form.

    OK, I’m done stereotyping now.

    There are airstrips in the Frank Church, “cherry-stemmed” into the Wilderness. Some are official USFS strips and some serve remote private in-holdings. This is an unfortunate part of that Wilderness. Airplanes buzz overhead all summer, which breaks the silence with an ugly man-made sound, especially if you are close to the landing and take-off areas, where the planes are very low in elevation. Here’s another interesting fact: The USFS uses saws and dynamite to break up log jams on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in order to let commercial rafting outfitters through. If it were a real (w)ilderness, the pampered guests would have to portage around these blockages, perhaps not making it in time for their appointments in civilization, or even starving to death because they were unprepared, like the good old days. Airplanes, commercial outfitters (complete with wine and cheese), saws and dynamite are OK but bicycles are not. Wilderness? No, it’s Wildernessland!

    (All it takes is money slipped into the right pockets and a few good lawyers)

  79. Mr. Ryason displays some troubling ignorance about the history and intense political battles that were fought over Idaho wilderness many years ago. The fact is that the airstrips, inholdings, and small exceptions to blanket wilderness designation were the results of political compromise – something the mountain bikers seem incapable of. With them it is all or nothing. What selfishness.

    One way the MFSR and the Selway is managed to preserve wilderness quality is through use of a lottery system that seeks to limit the impact on the river corridors – really just large trails. In the good old days, we opposed the permits as an infringement on our personal freedoms. We learned, mellowed, and eventually admitted that the USFS got it right. Successful lottery winners plan far in advance, pay some user fees and conform to some minimal administrative requirements. Would the bikers who insist on access to every wilderness area be willing to subject to a similar plan? Would you agree to limit use to a few bikers a day for a set period of time, pay some fees, shape behaviors?

    The use of all public lands comes with some responsibilities that change with land use designation. Can the bikers demonstrate they are ready and willing to step up?

  80. jdj, I think mountain bikers would be more than willing to participate in a permit system as long as it takes impacts of all users into account. Read my earlier post about an impact based permit system.

    jdj wrote “The use of all public lands comes with some responsibilities that change with land use designation. Can the bikers demonstrate they are ready and willing to step up?”

    Mountain bikers have demostrate for years that they are willing to take care of the land through trail work. In the Boise area mountain bikers do the majority of trailwork on non-motorized trails. I think this situation is the same all around the country.

    I have no interest in accessing current wilderness areas, simply any new wilderness areas that close out existing use.

  81. How does being completely banned from access we currently have (especially when there are other ways to protect these lands, ways that would actually DOUBLE the amount of land protected by Congressional designation) look like any sort of compromise?

    Every trail lost is a compromise. Every acre designated as Wilderness when it doesn’t actually meet the definition is a compromise.

    We’re not talking about all or nothing – we never have been. We’re talking about vast “Wilderness A” tracts surrounded by large buffer zones of companion designations with the possibility of SOME of the trails being designated as “Wilderness B”, and that designation snapping to the trail alignment ONLY.

    Let me walk you through the math again;

    Wilderness Advocate: “Let’s all agree to protect these 100 acres. For the greater good, you mountain bikers are going to have to agree to never ride here again.”

    Cycling Advocate: “I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we protect 200 acres using the Wilderness designation AND the most appropriate companion designation, one that allows silent and human powered activity but still protects against extraction and development? If we could do that, we can preserve mountain bike routes and get every single mountain biker behind the proposal. We’ll meet for beers and pizza afterwards!”

    Wilderness Advocate: “No. 100 acres. Wilderness only. You’re out.”

    Now tell me again…who is incapable of compromise?

    JDJ, yours is not even an alternative perspective that needs to be weighed, considered and respected. You’re just flat-out wrong.

    WE are offering a solution with an incredible upside. YOU, sir are stating that the blanket ban on bicycles is the ONLY solution.

    Again, you are wrong. And in the course of being so inflexible are visiting a grave disservice upon the public land protection dialogue.

  82. Mr. Wuerthner-

    You said: “The mechanical advantage given by today’s modern bikes cheapens and degrades the experience for others, and has potential negative impacts on the land (for instance riding a mountain bike might give hunters access to formerly remote lands that provided wildlife with a refuge).”

    Is this not EXACTLY what horses do, and have been doing for decades, in our most pristine wilderness areas? What kills me the most about the unyielding support for the traditional wilderness designation is that wilderness allows horses to violently degrade the lands that its advocates are so eager to protect.

    Yes, riding a mountain bike MIGHT give hunters access to formerly remote lands that provided wildlife with a refuge, but horses CAN and WILL do this, and to make matters even more intolerable, they do it for a profit. After ATVs, there is simply nothing more destructive to our trails than horses. They chew up the trails, they introduce hordes of biting flies, and they scatter massive volumes of feces indiscriminately. Outfitters are allowed to bring large numbers of clients and horses virtually anywhere, and they set up tent cities when they get there.

    George, have you ever spent two days hiking through green piles of horse crap and swarms of flesh eating flies, to arrive at your destination, perhaps a secluded alpine lake, only to find it inhabited by a dozen stinking, grass devouring horses and the apathetic, beer-swilling tourists who paid thousands of dollars to have this experience served to them by phony cowboys? Welcome to the American vision of Wilderness, cheapened and degraded, and advocated by people like you.

  83. Where are these mythical bikers that are insisting on access to every wilderness area? Reading through the comments above I see numerous attempts by the pro-bike crowd to acknowledge the benefits of (W)ilderness, while attempting to find ways to preserve existing access to (w)ilderness and other natural space they they care about and have worked to protect, while being willing to support the (W) mission in general. It’s not a matter of trying to *gain* access to all (W)ilderness, but rather trying to find a way to keep access to the trails they have worked to protect.

    I can imagine that hiking only folks would feel the same way if legislative proposals were to completely take away your trails and give them only to bikers (a proposal which would, in fact, be all or nothing and is not a part of this discussion). The MTB community has spent years doing trailwork and protecting these areas where people on bikes have the same kinds of transcendent experiences some believe are only available to hikers and those who ride horses. And now they face the possibility of losing access permanently, and hear that their experience is “less than” that of people who access the land on a horse or on foot. It sounds a lot like a stranger coming to your yard and saying, “hey, nice work on the landscaping, thanks, but you can’t really appreciate it so we’re going to take it over and now you kids get off my lawn.”

  84. @ jdj – So, in other words, (W)ilderness advocates are willing to compromise and accept existing motorized uses such as aircraft in the Frank Church and jet boats in Hell’s Canyon but not existing non-motorized bicycle use in, for example, Point Reyes and the Boulder-White Clouds?

    Apparently, for us to “step up” we have to “step down” and allow trails to close to bicycle use.

  85. A friendly reply to Lizzie and a few others who’ve said or implied that this debate is only about new Wilderness designations and not about access to existing Wilderness.

    I’m of the view that mountain bikers should have reasonable access to existing Wilderness. As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest that wherever a horse is allowed to go, a cyclist should be too.

    That said, I have in mind there are some trails that horses can navigate that cyclists would find unrideable. As a practical matter, applying that standard would still find no cyclists on thousands of miles of trails in existing Wilderness.

    Also, I have no problem with permit systems, including ones setting quotas on visitor access, as long as they’re fairly applied.

  86. I’ve enjoyed reading Arne’s posts, many of which make excellent points. It’s nice to see that there’s a slice of America that can still write well and think logically. After two generations of electronic screens I’m not sure those skills will survive except among a handful of people (who will probably be earning lots of money by dint of having them).

    I’ve been meaning to reply to Arne’s suggestions about bringing a legal challenge.

    The Wilderness Act of 1964 does not bar cyclists from Wilderness. Only federal agency rules, put in place in the 1970s and 1980s, do that. They rest on a thin reed, legally speaking. People don’t challenge them in civil federal court because not only would it be expensive, but if one lost, mountain bikers could be personally liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to the opponents, who would try to find a way to become parties and collect attorney fees.

    Arne is correct that another way to do the legal challenge would be to simply engage in civil disobedience, have oneself cited, and challenge the law that way. In criminal court, I can’t think of any problems involving attorney fees, at least not on the scale that would be involved in civil litigation. But a criminal defendant usually cuts an unsympathetic figure. Whoever is willing to risk it could wind up with a criminal record. Nowadays, with widespread databases, it could do you a lot of harm personally. I’ve heard of people with only a misdemeanor conviction being denied entry to Canada, for example.

    And the merits of the case wouldn’t be 100% of the necessary calculation before taking such a step. The notion of impartial justice is sometimes honored in the breach but not observed in reality. I know of at least one federal judge who has a reputation for giving the Wilderness purists pretty much whatever they want in his courtroom. I doubt he would be willing to find the agency regulations unsupported by the Wilderness Act of 1964, no matter how much this is in fact the case.

    This post has gone on long enough, but in my next one I’ll include an example of a federal appeals court decision on a Wilderness violation that illustrates the ways some courts have thought about these issues. It’s not the way many of us think about them. I suspect people will be unpleasantly surprised to read it.

  87. Ted, thanks for the clarification. Indeed I am focusing on the new designations, because that is what it is about in our state, as mentioned in the original article about the omnibus bill.

  88. I’d concur that a system that employs a trail-by-trail strategy to designate appropriate use would be the endgame.

    But in between here and there I’d simply settle for not losing any more trails. Because what I’ve posted below isn’t science fiction.

    1964 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 100%
    1984 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 50%
    1994 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 40%
    2004 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 30%
    2014 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 20%
    2024 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 10%
    2034 Trail Access: Hikers/Horses – 100%, Bicycles 0%

  89. @Ted – The other thing is that federal areas like the capitol, military reservations, National Parks, Forests, etc. come under the “exclusive legislative jurisdiction” of congress, with “exclusive” meaning excluding the Constitution, which does not apply unless the judge allows it. From what I have read over the years, it seems that the Uniform Commercial Code plus Admiralty and Maritime Law are greater influences in federal court than the Constitution. My understanding of this is that when you enter a National type area, you have left the State you are in and are now in what is essentially a military reservation.

    I do not want to engage in civil disobedience unless I already have a lawyer well versed in all of the above (etc.), hence the need for a lot of money and other influences. I need to find out if this is even possible without risking a long stay in the crowbar motel.

    I imagine that many federal judges already have friends who are equestrians, (W)ilderness advocates, etc., so the deck is already stacked against you if you want to rock the boat a bit.

    The Golden Rule: Those with the gold make the rules.

  90. @Arne — Most people won’t be interested in these legal points, so I’ll keep this brief. Under the federal constitution’s supremacy clause and various Supreme Court decisions, the constitution (along with treaties the Senate has ratified) constitute the supreme law of the land. All federal statutes and regulations must comply with the constitution and those treaties and no judge is free to ignore constitutional and treaty requirements (although sometimes they overlook or misunderstand them, which is why we have layers of appeals courts to reverse their erroneous decisions). The exclusive federal jurisdiction you mention applies to federal lands and means that states, territories, Indian tribes, etc., can’t impose their own laws in those places unless Congress authorizes it.

    @Mike — I hope you’re wrong, but that’s a cool table for pointing out to any fair-minded person the unfairness that’s being worked against trail cyclists.

    @Lizzie — Thanks for clarifying.

  91. I hope that I’m wrong as well, but the NIMBY-ism that best describes the “You mountain bikers have plenty of trails already – go somewhere else to ride your bikes” train of thought maps out EXACTLY like that.

  92. No bikes or any mechanical device in wilderness areas, period. Dont that way in Montana. Can’t even use a chain saw in a wilderness area. No helicopers landing, either, nothing. Leave it alone.

  93. So, in other words, I had a right to ride the trails in Point Reyes National Seashore prior to 1984, as I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission or buy some sort of license to do so. There were no signs indicating permission or prohibition at that time. Since it is “public” land, in theory I own a piece of it, so I was riding on my own property. I would defend that right using the 9th Amendment, which states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The administrative ruling that outlawed bicycles in most of Point Reyes violates my 9th Amendment rights.

    If CIEDRA passes in congress, which would close the Grand Prize Gulch to the West Fork of the East Fork of the Salmon River in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to bicycles, this would violate my right to ride a bicycle on “my” trail, thus violating one of my 9th Amendment Constitutional rights. (Last time I rode it there was NOBODY else on it. I was the “majority” in this case if that helps.)

    Although mountain biking does not predate the US Constitution, I can show that it predates the 1964 Wilderness Act by 147 years. Just because it wasn’t common doesn’t mean it didn’t exist then. Many “old timers” can attest to riding balloon tire bikes on trails in the 1950s or earlier.

    What I would like to point out is that if (W)ilderness advocates don’t compromise and they push for legislation that closes more trails to bicycle use, they might end up with a court decision that opens up ALL (W)ilderness trails to mountain biking.

  94. Sorry fellas, hope I didn’t affend anyone. Just stating how its done in Montana. Wilderness areas in Montana do not allow motorized vehicles or mechanical vehicles such as mountain bikes. That is just in Montana, and I don’t know what they do elseware. Did not mean to get on the bikers toes or anybody else….I could care less if they biked our wildernesses. I walk and enjoy it. Horses use them all the time, and I have no problem with that. I guess its about enjoyment for all……

  95. Thanks BigSky. The funny thing is, we ALL agree on protecting the land. We just have slightly different takes on how to do it. And those small divides between like-minded groups have proven very difficult to bridge. For the most part, our contention is that silent users SHOULD group together.

    We can all be a little thin-skinned on this one. Sounds like we owe YOU an apology.


  96. @ Mike – There are probably places in the Frank Church Wilderness that haven’t seen a human in many years, maybe centuries, simply because no trails come near. “Wilderness C” probably already exists in many places because nobody bothers to visit, as most people stick to the trails and rivers, or at least nearby them.

    Look at some of the remote mountain ranges in Nevada. I bet a lot of those are people-free by default. I was on a backpack trip to Arc Dome in Nevada more than 30 years ago and we were the only ones there. Many people think of Nevada as a wasteland, so that opinion means the mountain ranges between the desert playas see little human visitation, designated Wilderness or not.

    Size and remoteness are the keys to protecting the wilderness, not what’s on the trails.

  97. Arne, I have to tell you that the Ninth Amendment is pretty much a dead letter legally. Efforts are made periodically to give it some substance, but the courts shy away from it. I think you would lose any case you brought in which you relied on the Ninth Amendment. You might get Clarence Thomas to agree with you at the U.S. Supreme Court if your case got that far, but I think it would still be 8-1 against you.

    There are other obscure constitutional rights few people ever hear about and that the courts rarely address (less even than they do the Ninth Amendment). Among them are the right to a republican form of government (small r) and the Third Amendment right not to have troops quartered in your house.

  98. Ted, yes, I’ve heard that before. Some originally argued against limited enumerated rights, so the 9th was thrown in to apease that faction. They were right, I suppose, and now that the 9th has no teeth, all kinds of vulgar laws can be passed. Our rights are very limited, indeed.

    There are three kinds of laws:

    God’s law: Do what is right; do not trespass upon another’s person or property.

    Man’s law: Do what you say you will do; keep to your contracts.

    Vulgar law: Do what I tell you to do; I don’t need a valid reason.

    I will always believe that the law banning bicycle use in Point Reyes National Seashore, on former ranch roads, is right there in the third category, but there is nothing in the Constitution against vulgar law … or is there?

  99. Arne, that’s a tough question to answer. I guess I’d say yes and no, but that’s not helpful.

    So, turning to something I can grasp better, I was intrigued at your mention of the Arc Dome Wilderness. There are a bunch of them in the remote middle of central Nevada and I’ve wondered whether anyone visits them. I heard that parts of the Toiyabe Crest Trail, running south from Austin, haven’t been maintained since the 1930s.

    Quite right: people think of interior Nevada as a wasteland, but it’s anything but that if one gets to know it even moderately well.

  100. George,

    You wrote “arguing that unless you can mountain bike in an area you can’t support wilderness designation suggests to me that the most important thing is the biking, not the land protection itself.” One can just as easily argue that if you cannot consider companion designations that would offer the same protections to the land but would allow mt biking, then the most important thing to you is the removal of bikes, not the protection of the lands.

  101. Ted – I don’t think Arc Dome was a designated Wilderness when we hikes it, but it is a beautiful place. I’d favorably compare a lot of those ranges to anything in the Sierra or Rockies, but don’t tell anybody (ha!). A lot of the trails are so unused and rough a bicycle would definitely be useless ballast in many cases, but you could mountain bike the entire state from top to bottom and only cross a few paved roads. One of these days …

    Mostly I’m a Nevada hot spring fan. Sometimes, when driving through on Highway 80, I take the “long cut” from Winnemucca to the Black Rock Desert, soak in Trego Ditch and watch the trains go by. It’s so quiet you can feel the trains coming when they’re miles away. Nothing like it.

    (Sorry, I digress …)

  102. Gentlemen, it appears as if we’re the last ones at the table. I move that we carry on this conversation in another venue.

    An earnest thank you to all who participated, pro, con, civil, caustic or otherwise. The exchange of ideas and opinions may be painful at times, yet I feel that we’re somehow chipping away at the wall that divides us. Conversations like these MUST happen, as frustrating as they sometimes are.

    Thank you George, for being a courteous and gracious host. Though we may not agree, you’ve certainly been eloquent in the defense of the ideas you hold dear.

  103. As usual, we don’t see any well thought out reason why bikes should be kicked off wilderness. Then again, anti-cycling have the luxury of not having to defend the inequity. The regulations are on their side. Why spend time defending the indefensible when one can use that time to go walk/ride his/her own private Idaho at taxpayer’s expense?

    For the record, I’m on the side of opening most wilderness to cyclists. Point Reyes, for example, has some wonderful trails to ride…

  104. RE: Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill

    Something I’d encourage Wilderness supporters in Montana to consider is the fact that if Senator Tester and the collaborators (Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation, Montana Trout Unlimited and few timber mill owners) would have accepted the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s draft revisions back in May 2010, Montana would have likely gained about 660,000 acres of Wilderness designation because the ENR Committee draft would have been approved by the Committee and therefore included in the possible Omnibus public lands bill, which George references.

    However, what transpired was actually what we predicted all along:

    The bull-headed insistence from Senator Tester, Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation, Montana Trout Unlimited and four timber mill owners in Montana for a minimum of 100,000 acres of mandated logging (with no max even established) and allowing motors in Wilderness cost all of us the opportunity to designate over 660,000 acres as Wilderness and get some good restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished as proposed in the ENR Committee’s draft.

    Perhaps Senator Tester and the collaborators learned an important lesson…but then again, perhaps not. It appears as if Senator Tester and the collaborators will continue to ensure that any Wilderness Designation in Montana is held hostage by mandated logging by reintroducing the FJRA, as is, in the next session of Congress.

    I mean, the US Congress has proven itself to be such an excellent body why wouldn’t we want politicians mandating logging on our public lands? I sure am glad that Senator Tester gave all these newly elected Republican members of the US Congress the great idea to introduce their own bills mandating logging, oil and gas development, coal mining, grazing on federal public lands in their own states. Man, once we get back the Triple R on the federal level in 2 years we can really start to Drill Baby Drill and Log Baby Log, etc. I mean for the life of me I can’t figure out why in the world would the American people want their public lands managed through an open, inclusive public public process guided by the latest science and research when instead we can just have politicians pass laws mandating all this resource extraction?

  105. Allow mountain bikes in protected wilderness type areas (more people will jump on the wilderness bandwagon) and get cellulose from industrial hemp instead of trees (four times as much per acre) and many problems will be solved. The hemp issue is much more important than the bike issue.

  106. Actually, there are plenty of places where bicycles are inappropriate, but I am going to take the position of wanting them EVERYWHERE in order to maybe have them allowed where they currently are, plus, damnit, on ROADS and TRAILS where they USED TO BE legal (Point Reyes). It’s called bidding. I ask for more than I want so I end up getting what I want. I wear the “MountainBike-zi” label proudly.

    It is up to the NREPA people to reach out and say, “OK, we love you, we don’t want any more trails cosed to bicycle use, will you stand behind our cause?”

    And I will say “Yes, with enthusiasm, where do I sign? Where do I send a donation? What should I write to my congressman?”

  107. I am not “anti-wilderness.” I am “anti-(W)ilderness” as it is currently and erroneously interpreted. I still enjoy backpacking in our two local Wilderness Areas and hiking (XC skiing at this point) in the local hills.

    Keep in mind that there might be more mountain bikers than backpackers, even though 99 percent of mountain biking probably happens in the local park or open space. The big, high country will probably not see a sudden flood of cyclists if the gates were suddenly thrown open.

    The big picture of outdoor, non-motorized recreation has been changing for decades. Time to evolve. Do you want mountain bikers siding with the motorized crowd or the environmentalist groups? The former already welcomes us with open arms. So far, I don’t want that kind of “hug.”

  108. At least, we’ll get to ride our bikes on these trails a little while longer. And we should have access to existing wilderness. There’s no difference between trails on existing wilderness and trails on proposed wilderness. It’s still just dirt.

  109. Larix, I fail to understand your position. Can you explain why you personnally oppose biking on existing wilderness? What specifically is the problem? 50m acres in the lower 48 ought to be large enough for all of us, human powered users and horse powered users, to enjoy.

  110. Arne’s basic facts about the origins of the Wilderness bicycle ban are accurate, and as far as I know, his timeline is too.

    Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964. Two years later, in 1966, the Forest Service issued a regulation allowing bicycles in Wilderness, though not naming them specifically. This regulation, which is still on the books (36 CFR § 293.6), is the only accurate rule regarding mechanical transport in Wilderness that the Forest Service has promulgated.

    In 1977, the Forest Service issued a conflicting rule that specifically banned bicycles in Wilderness. (36 CFR § 261.18(b).) After that, and until 1984 inclusive, the agency issued still more regulations on the topic. As a group, the rules were rife with inconsistencies as regards bicycles.

    It’s the 1977 rule that is enforced today, alas, though it’s in conflict with the 1966 rule.

    Moreover, and this is quite intriguing, around 1982-83 the Forest Service started issuing documents that went both ways regarding bicycles. First the agency was going to allow them, then it wasn’t.

    All of these processes from 1977 to 1984 are mysterious, and they were carried in a closed and opaque way that would not be acceptable today. It may be, for example, that the circa 1982-83 flip-flop on Forest Service views occurred because a Sierra Club member was friends with a Forest Service employee, both the Sierra Clubber and the employee misunderstood the Wilderness Act and didn’t know about the 1966 rule, the Sierra Clubber urged his views on the Forest Service employee, and the employee gave a fine-by-me response that resulted in the final crystallization of the no-bikes regimen, which came about in 1984.

    1977 was a remarkable year also because members of Congress who were key to getting the Wilderness Act passed started telling the agencies, formally and informally, that their interpretation of the Wilderness Act was too severe. The legislators didn’t mention bicycles (mountain bikes weren’t much around then), but said that rules against primitive cabins, footbridges, trail signage, and similar rustic infrastructure were exaggerating the restrictions Congress meant to have in place for Wilderness. In addition, Congress meant for chainsaws etc. to be used in Wilderness for trail maintenance.

    The documents containing these congressional objections are known to but a few, but I’ve come across them in public records and library collections and I should write another article on them—perhaps another law review article or, if it’s interested, a piece for High Country News. My Aug. 27, 2010, op-ed article in The New York Times touches on these subjects: *

    The Forest Service, NPS, and BLM no-bikes-in-Wilderness rules thus rest on the flimsiest of legal foundations, but mountain bikers have not challenged them in court up to now. I think there are three reasons for this: (1) only a few thousand mountain bikers are fit enough to be able to take full advantage of what Wilderness trail riding would have to offer; (2) of this small group, some are already riding Wilderness trails and aren’t motivated to take up a legal battle;** and (3) a legal challenge would be expensive and risky to one’s personal finances. Indeed, the stakes would be so high financially that I doubt even IMBA could take on a protracted legal challenge to the agency rules.

    * You can also read a bunch of letters criticizing my op-ed here: I might note that some of the responding letter-writers, either intentionally or in good faith, misinterpreted my op-ed as a plea to have my hand held as I venture into the wilds or for the wilds to be paved over for my safety. A particularly nasty criticism to this effect appeared in a Backpacker magazine online discussion. If the critics knew my record of adventures at high altitudes and in remote areas on multiple continents, some of them foolhardily life-threatening, they wouldn’t have alleged this.

    ** By this I mean that some are riding Wilderness trails knowing it’s against a Forest Service rule, while others aren’t aware of any prohibition. I wish I could post pictures on this thread. I’d show one of a weatherbeaten sign, quite unreadable, on the Colorado Trail above 12,000 feet that may or may not mark a Wilderness boundary. No one could know one’s violating a rule based on this unreadable sign. Similarly, this summer I may have come up against a Wilderness boundary in southern Colorado. But I can’t be sure because all that was there was a walking-stick-shaped marker emblazoned with a Forest Service trail number. I suspect that some of the antibike Wilderness purists don’t know the realities of such things because they rarely close to actual Wilderness and form most of their views about it while sipping a latte at Powell’s Books in downtown Portland, Ore., or from their midtown Manhattan office.

  111. With that apology having been expressed, let’s knock off the personal jibes and keep the thread on topic. Thanks.

  112. Oops, I spoke too soon. Well, I repeat my request for civility. Or, failing that, diatribes with correct spelling. 🙂

    BTW, Bike Wild has only a handful of signatories, and that’s because it represents the views of almost no mountain bikers. I wrote about this earlier in the thread. I know one of the self-described mountain bikers who signed the Bike Wild petition, and I doubt he has ever ridden on a singletrack or even a difficult jeep road.

  113. Larix,

    All I can say is WOW! Nearly speechless. Wound tight are we? You and your parents should be very proud!

    You query – “For all your claims about wanting to work together where are you now?”

    What esteemed organization would bicyclists contact to have such an enlightening conversation? Do you have an ‘in’ with one of these non-profits or do you work for one that you could slip in a good word for us? Do tell!

  114. Larix, thanks for making conservationists look bad. 🙂

    It seems that you haven’t explained why you are personnally opposed to riding bicycles in existing wilderness areas. Afraid of sharing?

  115. Yawn. I’m outa here. Wilderness designations will be put on hold for a while, because the government is more than broke and all these proposals cost the taxpayer zillions. (The government’s priority is war and fondling children in airports) Maybe I’ll start the MTB PAC or something, so that when Wilderness is considered again, the mountain bikers can throw a few coins on the table. I challenge any other mountain biker, with more time and money than I have (and better bike industry connections) to beat me to it. I know you’re out there reading this. You’re a better shmoozer and writer than I am.

    Always remember the Golden Rule: Those with the gold make the rules. (Sorry for repeating myself, but it is worth repeating)

    No more trails should be closed to bicycle use.

    Not. One. Inch.

    (Larix, get a sense of humor. It helps)

  116. The one thing missing from this long and convoluted conversation is all the air strips in wilderness areas.

  117. Unfortunately too much discussion in the United States seems bent on polarization. This discussion thread actually seems intent on applying reason, logic and facts to the emotions we all feel about land use and preservation. I applaud everyone who has posted.

    Many of us are old enough to have ridden mountain bikes in wilderness prior to 1984. There was collective angst when I picked up the Crested Butte Chronicle in 1984 and, under Paul Andersen’s by-line, read that the ban had been enacted. It felt as if a birthright had been taken away. I certainly was intimately acquainted with The Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness and had done limited riding in the West Elks Wilderness, Grand Gulch Primitive Area and had even snagged a piece of the Appalachian Trail. That doesn’t mean my opinion is more important or wiser than anyone else. It does mean I was lucky.

    I used to think it was a ridiculous notion that we had any real impact. That was before our numbers rose exponentially. There is impact, as has been noted, by any human use. Consider what Moab was like before it became a circus. I definitively believe some areas should be off limits. Conundrum Hot Springs now has so many users, backpackers are being urged to pack out their own waste because of fear over bacterial contamination. The West Maroon Pass trail from Crested Butte to Aspen was recently likened to a Conga line because of all the hikers. Every time I open the paper it seems growth and development further encroaches on habitat and when deer eat people’s shrubs or bears overturn their trashcans they blame it on the wildlife.

    That being said, I fervently believe that limited corridors of travel for mountain biking through wilderness make sense and should be established. The Hidden Gems proposal is a microcosm of the greater question and could purposely show that wilderness and mountain bikes can coexist through careful planning and management. It’s important to preserve the existing and historic access we enjoy. There is also an opportunity for government officials to work with local groups and the IMBA to plan and build trails. I have complete faith that the majority of mountain bikers, especially those devoted to trail design and management, care deeply about the environment.

    In Gunnison County, the Gunnison to Crested Butte trail proposed by Gunnison Trails and others makes sense on so many levels and has lived in people’s imaginations for some time. It’s a chance to grow the local economy, enhance riding opportunities and link two great cycling communities. It’s not one or the other. Instead it could a model for rational land use planned by shared stakeholders. Wouldn’t it be great if people worked together and didn’t call each other names? That’s just this aging thrillcraft rider’s opinion.

  118. Well said Steve, any activity has impacts. We all need to work together to mitigate those impacts as much as possible to be a bit more open minded towards our fellow human beings.

  119. (OK, I’m back)

    @ the real mike – Read “Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes” by Margaret M. Wheat, Univ. of Nevada Press, Reno. On page 27 there is an old picture of Indians gambling. Apparently they did this often, so, in fact, it is a tradition of theirs and appropriate in Nevada. A “wilderness” administered by Native People would probably be far different than the romanticized notions held by the Euro-American. We’d have to stay out entirely, unless we agreed to live by pre-European invasion standards (no nylon, gas stoves, down sleeping bags, bicycles, etc.). Wheat’s book is a good starting point.

  120. Ted Stroll has provided more facts about the history of the official federal bike ban than anyone else here, if one bothers to read his entire posts. You might have to look up the CFR chapter and verse, though. He even linked, above, to criticisms of his writing.

    Bless Larix, so that he may see the light, acquire a sense of humor and use his real name. (Don’t worry. We won’t try to find you and put a rattlesnake in your mailbox)

    Bless Mike Vandeman, may he receive a fair trial this week. (I miss his opinions, using his REAL NAME, even though he is like a broken record sometimes. But I suppose I am, too.)

  121. This thread is now really funny. It’s just like watching a train wreck.

    Larix: all existing wilderness used to be opened to bikes. Reopening it would simply revert to the old status. What you’re proposing is not really appealling:
    – there is about 50m acres of existing wilderness, somewhere around 20 to 30% of all existing park land in the lower 48. Your proposal is to keep cycling out of it
    – you advocate for keeping cycling in the next few millions acres of new wilderness in exchange for not accessing existing wilderness.

    So, if we follow your advice, we at best maintain access to our current trails while giving up on 50m acres of open space. If you look at the number, you would see why it’s not exactly appealling.

  122. All of the blessing going on kinda seems Monte Python-ish.

    With the return of Larix – I am reminded of the outstanding question:

    What organization would cyclists talk to about protecting the roadless lands you suggest? How would such a process begin?

    Bless you for blessing me.

  123. What state I live in is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that currently 50m or so are off limit to bikes. Depending on your sources, that’s about 20 to 30% of all open public land in the lower 48. It’s a huge number.

    Otherwise, Larix is starting to sound like MVD.

  124. Check this out:

    Depending on how you classify what, wilderness might be just 10% of all open public land, or as much as 40%. Regardless of actuall percentage, it’s a very significant amount. Does not even take into account restrictions from the NPS in areas that are not classified as wilderness.

    The goal is not to open every single trail everywhere. The goal is to open areas to cycling based on a reasonable rational approach. We all know that most of the backcountry in open public lands is empty except for specific trails that attract the bulk of the tourists. As such, we should continue our campaign to open existing wilderness to bikes. That would also take care of cyclists opposition to new wilderness as well.

  125. As I pointed out in The New York Times, Wilderness now covers an area about the size of California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey combined. That much is incontrovertible.

    If people realized that in such a huge area you can (officially and legally) travel only via 19th-century means, I think they’d be unhappy. As it is, they sense that something is wrong with the valuable but also problematic wilderness model. Congress knows it too, which is why it keeps allowing nonconforming uses in one Wilderness after another, including wide roads, military operations, dams, weather stations, motorized vehicle operations, motorboats, etc.

    The basic problem with the Wilderness Act’s list of prohibitions is that it’s specification-based, not standard-based. The government has a history of messing things up with concrete specifications in place of standards. For example, for decades we had to have sealed-beam headlights that were inferior to the Cibié, Hella, Maréchal, etc., nonsealed European headlights. Why? Because circa the 1930s sealed beams were superior to the leaky nonsealed headlights. But instead of setting standards for service life, illumination quality, and glare avoidance, the government simply banned all headlights that weren’t sealed beams. When the nonsealed headlights became much better, we couldn’t use them (except illegally, which of course many people did). The wilderness restrictions are similar. They should prohibit things that aren’t quiet and that damage the environment. Then bicycles would be allowed and the luxury commercial horse-packtrain operations that have free rein in Wilderness today might find themselves in difficulty unless they can clean up their act.

  126. Don’t worry. They’re not running the asylum.

  127. Larix,

    I’m all for setting aside wilderness as long as cycling is allowed in it. You keep on arguing that those 2 views are incompatible without giving any reason other than mountain biking was not around in 1964.

    At any rate, Ted has explained the reasons why cycling should be allowed in wilderness much than I ever will, so please take a look at his articles.

  128. Oh, well when you put it that way I can see the folly of my argument. I stand corrected. Open all Wilderness to Mtn Bikes.

  129. Here is the most recent pre-1984, pre-bicycle ban Wilderness sign: . It is very specific. No MOTORIZED vehicles or equipment. After 1984, the sign had essentially the same design, but the ban on bicycles and hang gliders was included. (It didn’t say anything about unicycles and paraponts, however.) I have a picture of the new sign somewhere, which I shot on a backpack trip in the Sawtooth Wilderness in 1986.

    Someone above refers to 19th century transportation methods as being the only ones allowed in Wilderness Areas. Mountain Biking is, in fact, one of those 19th century transportation modes. It was NOT invented by hippies in Northern California, rather, it was invented in early 19th century Germany:

    “Karl von Drais, who had studied mathematics and mechanics but had accepted the post of master of the forests of the Grand Duke of Baden, was intrigued by the hobby-horses with which people were experimenting as an aid to walking the streets. He though that they might help him and his men to get around in the forests. Now let us speculate, because the next crucial stage is unknown. On streets and sidewalks, only occasionally did an unsteerable hobby-horse have to be redirected, by lifting the front wheel; the lack of steering might have appeared to be a virtue. However, for negotiating forest paths and avoiding roots, boulders and holes, steering must have seemed necessary, and Von Drais, whose other inventions included a binary digit system, a meat grinder, and a typewriter, took this step. Our assumption is that he had no preconception that he could balance with front-wheel steering, but simply thought that it would would be a convenience. Presumably he or one of his workers discovered the possibility of balancing one day when going down a hill.” – from “Bicycling Science,” 2nd edition, Whitt and Wilson, MIT Press, 1982.

    It is widely accepted that Von Drais invented the bicycle in it’s current form, more or less. It had a steerable front wheel, specifically to negotiate curving forest paths. The first bicycle was a mountain bike.

    Either 1816 or 1817 was the “year without summer” due to a major volcanic eruption. With almost no growing season, there wasn’t enough food for horses in Europe. Elsewhere I have read that Von Drais’ invention was in direct response to a need for an alternative to the horse. Mountain biking predates the Wilderness Act by 147 years. It pre-dates paved country roads and trails by many years, so everyone who rode a bicycle in the early days was a “mountain biker.”

    Here is the 1966 definition of “mechanized transport,” apparently still in effect:

    “Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by flotation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device.” 36 C.F.R. § 293.6 (2004). This regulation dates to 1966 and is still in effect. The key word here is “and.” Mechanized means motorized. A bicycle, therefore, does not fall under this definition.

    It used to be legal to ride a bicycle in designated Wilderness Areas. Period.

    I am going to beat this dead horse to a pulp.

  130. The wilderness issue is a federal issue, so where I live does not matter.

    I’ve given you the link that categorizes all land uses in this country.

    It probably only escaped you, but mountain bikers are not anti wilderness, we’re anti blanket ban on bicycles in wilderness. Just because we don’t share you point of view does not mean that we’re anti conservation.

    Again, let us know when you can articulate in a coherent manner why you oppose bicycles in wilderness.

  131. Pretty funny! Sounds like some of the arguments going on here about Wolves, Wilderness, and Mega loads at A tad dysfunctional but entertaining for awhile.

  132. @Larix, real.

    I live in Montana, I mountain bike. I used to support Wilderness designations in spite of them being against my interests. No more. I have been push and shut out of too many places by people who claim to be reasonable and middle of the road. No more.

    You want my support? Change the way you do business.

    NREPA is dead.

  133. Larix says:

    “Apparently you think every square inch of public land should be soley focused on recreation.”

    No where in this entire thread do I hear any one supporting that statement.

    It is important to note that there is a huge difference between trail based recreation (bicycles) and cross country hiking/backpacking or horse back riding. Multiple day backpacking / horse packing has a MUCH greater affect on Wild places than day bicycle use ever will.

    Stop making up stuff just to fight with yourself!

  134. Larix, if you look at that “ecorover” blog I linked to about a mile up this thread, you’ll see that it was a hiker and his dog that disturbed a sow bear, causing her cubs to climb a tree and her to bluff charge him. He almost defended himself with pepper spray. Perhaps ALL users should be banned from designated Wilderness in springtime to prevent this sort of thing. In the same blog he describes leaving the trail and scrambling up a scree slope, possibly damaging lichen and cryptobiotic soil. It is hikers that are more likely to use “every square inch” of wilderness for their playground, as bicycles are useless off trail. Trails comprise a tiny fraction of a percentage of wilderness.

    Bicycles are banned because they are bicycles. They are not “mechanical” by federal definition.

    “Yes they are.”

    “No, they aren’t.”

    “Yes they are.”

    “No, they aren’t.”

    “Yes they are.”

    “No, they aren’t.”

    “Yes they are.”

    “No, they aren’t.”

    “Yes they are.”

    “No, they aren’t.”

    “Yes they are.”

    “No, they aren’t.”

    Is that horse dead, yet?

  135. “Why is that 3 million acres in MT sooo important to he mtn bikers?”

    By asking that question you reveal your ignorance. That 3 million acres is where the riding is and the trails are.

    I am sorry if I am selfish because I don’t want to ride my bike out in East BF Egypt.

    I simply want to ride my bike where I have ridden for the past 20 years. I don’t advocate opening existing Wilderness to Biking even though that IS the right thing to do.

    And NO, the facts are not on your side.

    1. Bikes shrink the landscape allowing a large increase in people and frequency to formerly remote areas.

    The landsape stays exactly the same size, it only shrinks in your mind.

    2. Riding with any speed can set of a predator’s instincts to attack. There have been documented cases of mtn lions, grizzly bears attacking mtn bikers in BC almost certainly due to their speed. similar to jogger being attacked.

    This takes place only in designated Wilderness? So I am safe in non-Wilderness?………….. Fail!

    3. Wilderness designation is not soley focused on recreation. It is to provide habitat for widlife and the overall ecosystem. Apparently you think every square inch of public land should be soley focused on recreation.

    Nope, a trail is merely a corridor or conduit through Wilderness. One any trail if you were to walk 100 yards to either side you have all the Habitat you could possibly want. Trails are NOT Wilderness

    4. There are numerous problems with the outiftting industry in wilderness as many bikers have stated. This is all the more reason not to allow increased pressure on our already used and abused wilderness areas.

    So Business/Outfitters have more rights than a private citizen? Interesting take on my rights.

    5. The wilderness does not permit mechnzied transport period. It WILL open up a can of worms by allowing mtn bikes. The wilderness act is already under assualt by numerous groups.

    Old tired canard. Fail!

    6. Most people are ok with wildenress and don’t want mtn bikes to be everywhere.


    You claim to be open minded and middle of the road and then spout the same talking points of the Hysterical anti-bike crowd.

    You want help with creating more Wilderness? It will not come as long as you display the attitude shown here. I say that as constructive criticism and not to be an A-hole.

    As far as NREPA, even if you allowed Mtn Bikes, that bill will never pass and not just because of Mtn Bikers. That idea is an unreasonable one that impacts way too many towns and people.

  136. @Larix – “Guess what he suggests leaving existing wilderness alone, unless there was historic bike use before wilderness designation.” That describes Point Reyes, a manufactured “Wilderness” created from logged and grazed dairy ranches, ranch roads now called “trails.”

    CIEDRA will designate Wilderness in Idaho where there is mountain biking. It will close trails to bikes. Even though it is a National Recreation Area, forever closed to road building, logging and mining, that isn’t good enough. This is why I am an “extremist.”

    Not. One. More. Inch.

  137. Last time I stood in the middle of the road the Wilderness folks through bicyclists under the wheels of the motorized bus. But still I try…?

    As for yogi and booboo: I ride with bear spray and a 44 mag, just like the accepted practice of the pony people. If a bear INSISTS on having a problem with me – I put a hole in it.

    No Problem.

    Thanks for your concern though.

  138. Most people instinctively practice willful ignorance instead of pragmatic analysis. Its their way or the highway. Instinctively dysfunctional people make dysfunctional societies and democracy doesn’t help much. Thats why we appear to be moving backwards most of the time.

  139. That’s true, although I think the U.S. does pretty well at advancing over time. I’ve been influenced in this recently by Matt Ridley’s book “The Rational Optimist,” which I recommend.

  140. I don’t want to get too much in the mountain bike debate, but I did want to point out something.

    Fenske said above:

    “Larix I have lived and Biked in Montana for 19 years. ‘3 million acres of wilderness in MT vs 24 million acre of other public lands. Why is this 3 million acre so important them?’ There are a boatload of trails in the 3 Million acres that we used to be legally able to ride. Not any more. Many areas are Wilderness Study areas, that means they are NOT designated as Wilderness yet they are being managed as Wilderness and I can no longer ride my bike there.”

    It’s my understanding that new Wilderness has not been designated in Montana for over 25 years. Also, I thought the last Wilderness Study Areas designated in Montana were in the late 1970s (over 30 years ago) by Senator Metcalf.

    I mention this because I’m not sure how those dates jive w/ Fenske’s contention that in his 19 years in Montana “There are a boatload of trails in the 3 Million acres that we used to be legally able to ride.” Thanks.

  141. According to a source in DC who just called this morning, Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act” will be attached to the Senate’s Continuing Resolution (CR) bill, which is a “must pass bill” that would fund the US Government through next September.

    This, despite the fact that Senator Tester’s FJRA never made it out of the Senate ENR Committee and never was even introduced in the US House.

  142. Matthew,

    While it is true that Montana has not had new Wilderness in 25 years, this is not to say that bicycles have not lost access to a more convoluted, but equally effective, threat – Defacto-Wilderness. Under the Forest Service Region One ‘philosophy’ to manage Recommended Wilderness Areas as Wilderness, bicycles were banned this past June from 400 miles of singletrack across the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest under the B-D NF Forest Plan including sublime sections of the Continental Divide Trail. (Plus another 100 miles closed in the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area the same week under threat of further litigation from the Wilderness plaintiffs)

    So at a local forest level landscapes are being ‘protected’ as defacto-Wilderness with NO guarantee that these will ever get the official Congressional nod. In some cases trails we have ridden and maintained for decades are being closed to bicycles without a trail-by-trail discussion – just a blanket landscape ban.

    There are roughly 50 RWAs in Region One and if they are managed with the same disturbing bicycle ban – we are going to loose another 1500 + miles of trails in Montana. These are quality backcountry trails that certainly deserve some form of protection – just not from bicycles. These are established and cherished routes that are some of the best backcountry bicycle trails in the region. These experiences cannot be substituted by new front country replacements – even if the money is available. Telling cyclists to suck-it-up and go ride somewhere else doesn’t work when the best of the high country deck is getting systematically stacked against us.

    New front country trails systems are desperately needed around most of our communities – but these are in NO WAY a acceptable substitute for existing backcountry trail access.

    The Region One RWA management policy is the largest single threat to future bicycle access to trails we currently ride.

    Keep an eye on the politics surrounding CDT in Mile Creek in Lionhead just west of West Yellowstone which is a RWA. The Mile Creek trail on the Montana side of the border is one of the most endangered trails in the country – and also one of the best backcountry bicycle rides in region that was purposefully built with bicycles in mind in the mid-1990s at tax payer expense. This magnificent area certainly deserves protection – again just not from bicycles. Lionhead is an excellent candidate for a National Protection Area to protect the (w)ilderness character while providing continued quiet, non-motorized use on the existing trails. Cyclists – be prepared to participate in an public process to protect, preserve and expand the riding opportunities around West Yellowstone.

    Check this Mile Creek video:’s-best-singletrack/?utm_source=mike&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=promo

    Bottom line? There is a better way to manage bicycles on our public lands!

  143. The difference in the New Zealanders’ stated objections to mountain biking on the Heaphy Track (Trail) is the calmness in them, as opposed to some of the comments on this thread. They’re civil and contain a germ of actual thought, rather than being just content-free rants. Basically, the opponents are worrying that mountain biking will affect their business interests and, in one case, that the writer will be run down (not likely). One writer does refer to the local member of Parliament as an ideological idiot, but that’s standard political commentary in Commonwealth countries and doesn’t have anything to do with mountain biking.

  144. Bob, thanks for putting that so well.

    Larix, Senator Tester lost my support with his FJRA. I voted for him once, I will not do so again. This legislation is a sham.

  145. Larix, thanks for explaining your opposition to mountain bikes. As expected it’s devoid of any logic, as I expected it.

    I hope you’re old, otherwise, you might see the wheels of change turning fast enough to see cyclists enjoying the wilderness backcountry legally during your lifetime.

  146. In case you want to waste more of your life, George posted a new stab at the Wilderness Over Bicycle dogma: