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House committee passes bill giving local managers discretion over bikes in Wilderness Areas

Published December 14, 2017
IMBA opposed it; STC supports it.

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday passed HR 1349, legislation that would let local land managers decide if bikes and other human-powered vehicles are allowed in Wilderness Areas. The bill, which passed the committee in a 22-18 vote, now heads to a full House vote. 

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The International Mountain Bicycling Association does not support the legislation and submitted written testimony in opposition. The Sustainable Trails Coalition supports the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

Last year, BRAIN published opinion pieces from STC's Ted Stroll and former IMBA director Ashley Korenblat regarding similar legislation. 

In a statement last week, IMBA indicated it will continue to work for mountain bike access on public lands with other designations, and in some cases will oppose new Wilderness designations in order to preserve existing mountain bike opportunities.

"Mountain bikers and the recreation community depend on public lands and thoughtful conservation," IMBA's executive director, Dave Wiens, said in a news release. "Public lands are being threatened at an unprecedented level right now, and it's imperative that public land users come together to protect these cherished places and offer our voices in this critical dialogue.

"We know Wilderness hits some mountain bikers' back yards, and we understand why those riders support this legislation. To continue elevating mountain biking nationally, IMBA must remain focused on its long-term strategy for the bigger picture of our sport." Ackowledging that the stance was unpopular with its members, over the weekend Wiens also posted another blog post on the subject, which accepted comments.

In its testimony, IMBA also raised concerns, unrelated to HR 1349, about bike access to “recommended wilderness.” The group said rules governing lands with that designation are inconsistently applied, with bikes being banned from 800 miles of trails in the National Forest Service's Region 1, which encompasses Montana and parts of Idaho and North and South Dakota.

In a news release following the HR 1349's committee passage, McClintock emphasized that it would restore the original intent of the Wilderness Act. "When the House considered the Wilderness Act in June of 1964, the record is clear that its framers intended that the term 'mechanical transport' be applied to non-human-powered vehicles like motorcycles — not human-powered devices like bicycles. The Forest Service built this understanding into its original implementing regulations by explicitly allowing all forms of human-powered travel in Wilderness areas," McClintock said.

Bicycles were allowed in Wilderness Areas from the inception of the Act in 1964 until 1977, when the Forest Service reinterpreted the act to ban them, he said.

McClintock also emphasized that the bill would not give mountain bikes blanket access to Wilderness Areas.

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

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