In a move that’s being trumpeted by some as a measure that could lead to better trail access for mountain bikers, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has introduced the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act. Co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Senator Lee introduced bill S.3205, on July 13.
“Our National Wilderness Preservation System was created so that the American people could enjoy the solitude and recreational opportunities of this continent’s priceless natural areas,” stated Senator Lee. “This bill would enrich Americans’ enjoyment of the outdoors by making it easier for them to mountain bike in wilderness areas.”
Currently mountain bikes are not allowed on any land designated as Wilderness (with a capital “W”). There are currently 109 million acres of Federally designated Wilderness in the United States.
Full text of the bill has not yet been published, but a summary on Congress.gov reads in part that it’s a,”Bill to allow local Federal officials to determine the manner in which nonmotorized uses may be permitted in wilderness areas, and for other purposes.”
“Utah is blessed with an abundance of beautiful wilderness, and Americans should be free to enjoy it,” added Senator Hatch. “This bill presents a reasonable approach to allowing the use of mountain bikes on trails and grant federal land managers the ability to do necessary maintenance.”
The act was applauded by the Sustain Trails Coalition, which released a statement saying in part, “In 1984, the Forest Service overturned a longstanding regulation allowing locally based federal employees to decide where bicycles could be ridden in Wilderness areas, replacing it with a nationwide blanket ban. Other agencies followed, the last in 2000. This ruling also prohibits agency field staffs from using many small-scale, hand-held maintenance tools in those areas. Both policies run counter to the intent of Congress when the Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed.”
The result of these mistakes is an American public increasingly disconnected from wild places, the opposite of Congress’s intent in passing the Wilderness Act in 1964. Many Wilderness trails have disappeared or have deteriorated to the point that few try to use them. On the trails that remain, human-powered travelers are limited to certain types of walking. The agencies have even banned forms of walking, including for example parents with baby strollers,” continued the STC statement.
“Senator Lee’s bill will modify outdated blanket bans on human-powered travel and relieve a worsening situation,” says STC board member Ted Stroll. “The Forest Service in particular continues to impose bans on mountain biking. These bans drive cyclists away even as the Forest Service admits it cannot maintain trails and needs volunteers to do the maintenance it no longer performs.”
The Sustainable Trails coalition notes that Federally designated Wilderness areas are now 10 times the size they were when the Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964, an area roughly the size of California and Maryland combined. The groups thousands of members contend that a blanket ban not based upon scientific or environmental reasons is a regulatory mistake requiring reversal. Bill S3205 provides on-scene federal land managers the authority to decide on human-powered travel on local Wilderness trails, as was the case as recently as the year 2000 in some Wilderness areas.
The STC is a newer trail advocacy group that has not always been in agreement with the methods of the more established International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). We’re awaiting IMBA’s take on this latest development. In the meantime, former IMBA board president and Utah resident Ashley Korenblat (who does not speak on behalf of IMBA, but is well versed in these matters) was quick to reach out to Mtbr with a statement of her own, decrying the Act as a false promise that could eventually lead to more trail closures.
“As expected, the STC bill sponsor is no friend of public lands,” wrote Korenblat. “Senator Mike Lee supports the state take over of public lands and votes consistently not to fund public lands. Lee’s support of the STC bill is part of his larger agenda to undermine the environmental community, undermine the public land agencies, and give states control of federal lands.”
“Mr. Lee is primarily known for his work to balance the federal budget. Did you know that most states are required to balance their budgets, so when hard times come, they have to sell assets to cover the shortfall? If Mike Lee’s vision of our public lands prevail, bike trails on federal lands could be taken over by states and then sold for development when the states need cash. Mr. Lee’s bill is a symbolic gesture that will not pass, and therefore will not open any trails. STC has been duped by a false promise.”
To learn more about the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, please visit Senator Lee’s official website.