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IMBA pledges ‘more assertive stance’ on Wilderness designation

Published February 18, 2016
But advocacy group reaffirms that it will not support amending the Wilderness Act as a means for expanding mountain bike access.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — The International Mountain Bicycling Association will pursue “a more assertive stance” on the designation of public lands as federally protected Wilderness areas that don’t allow bikes, it announced Thursday, but will not back any effort to amend the Wilderness Act of 1964 to expand trail access, as proposed by fellow advocacy group the Sustainable Trails Coalition.

“To be too narrowly focused on access challenges would be at the expense of new access opportunities. I’m referring to new trail development happening today at a pace unanticipated and underappreciated,” IMBA president and executive director Mike Van Abel said during a media conference call.

Formed last year, the Sustainable Trails Coalition hopes to introduce new legislation that would allow bicycles in some federally designated Wilderness areas. Many STC members and supporters — including new board president John Bliss, a former IMBA president — have criticized IMBA for not challenging the Wilderness Act, which bans bikes from those areas.

Van Abel said Thursday that amending the Wilderness Act would have “negative and unintended consequences” that make the effort politically unviable, and the IMBA board recently reaffirmed that stance.

“IMBA will not expend its hard-earned political capital on such a risky and unnecessary endeavor when so much more access can be achieved on 90 percent of public lands that are not currently protected as Wilderness,” Van Abel said. “However, should trails be located in existing Wilderness areas, we can and will pursue legislation and ask Congress to redraw existing Wilderness boundaries to open access to select trails that have the right attributes for a quality mountain biking experience.”

Those efforts will be concentrated in areas where IMBA has strong grass-roots chapters and will target land-use decisions that “arbitrarily” bar access to bikes without proper analysis and evidence of adverse impact, he added.

Although IMBA doesn’t support STC’s legislative effort, Van Abel thanked the group for engaging more mountain bikers on the issue of trail access.

“I’m actually quite grateful that the STC is doing what they’re doing, and there’s certainly room for different thoughts, multiple organizations,” he said.

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