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Forest Service completes e-bike guidance for local land managers

Published March 31, 2022

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — The U.S. Forest Service finalized e-bike guidance for local land managers considering expanding access on trails and grasslands. Although e-bikes are still classified by the Forest Service as motor vehicles, land managers now can recategorize trails from nonmotorized to motorized to allow access.

"Expanding opportunities for electric bicycle riders to access National Forest System trails is an important step forward," said PeopleForBikes President and CEO Jenn Dice. "While we will continue to urge the U.S. Forest Service to reclassify Class 1 electric bicycles as nonmotorized, we encourage local land managers to implement this guidance for more accessible, equitable and diverse electric bicycle ridership on our public lands."

The Forest Service currently allows e-bikes on all its roads that are open to motorized vehicles, as well on 60,000 miles of motorized trails, which represent 38% of all trails the agency manages. The updated guidance also outlines the required environmental analysis and public input required before making future decisions to expand local e-bike access.

"National forests and grasslands are a place for all people to recreate, relax and refresh," said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. "The additional guidance will help our district rangers and forest supervisors better serve their communities with a policy that allows managers to make locally based decisions to address e-bike use. This growing recreational activity is another opportunity to responsibly share the experience of the outdoors with other recreationists."

The new guidance:

  • Establishes new criteria for designating Class 1, 2 and 3 e-bikes on Forest Service trails, roads and lands.
  • Creates specific criteria for designation of motor vehicle use on trails and guidance for designated e-bike use on trails. This includes an additional category (Trails Open to Electric Bicycles Only) to identify classes of motor vehicles on a motorized vehicle use map.
  • Adds an objective to consider emerging technologies, such as e-bikes, that are changing the way people access and recreate on NFS lands.

E-bike access to Forest Service trails prompted a lawsuit in 2019 by a group of trail and forest advocates. The group said the Forest Service allowed Class 1 e-bikes on nonmotorized trails in the Tahoe National Forest without conducting a public study. An Order of Dismissal was signed by the Department of Justice on March 31, 2020. Since then, the Tahoe National Forest included about 32 miles of trails in question into an existing assessment study — the East Zone Connect Project — that the USFS approved for Class 1 e-bike use in December 2020.

The Forest Service manages nearly 160,000 miles of trails in 42 states and Puerto Rico for a variety of activities, including mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hiking, and backpacking. The agency manages all access under its multiple-use mission. It says the clarified guidance will support local decision-makers as they consider opportunities to expand access for the emerging e-bike user group.

Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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