Dear Access4Bikes Members and Supporters,
We are writing this letter to discuss a new mountain bike effort that was recently started by the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC). This new group formed in the summer of 2015 with the goal of fixing an interpretation of the Wilderness Act that bans mountain biking in what now amounts to 110 million acres in the United States.
Access4Bikes was initially hesitant to support this effort as we were concerned that any efforts to remove the blanket ban on bikes in Wilderness could weaken the Wilderness Act itself. After much discussion and review of the facts, we are now confident that STC’s goals will not weaken the Wilderness Act and will not open our Wilderness areas to exploitation. STC’s goals are wholly focused on 36 C.F.R. §261.18(b), the regulation enacted in 1977 and reaffirmed in 1984 by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to enforce the Wilderness Act, and, along with parallel National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management regulations. These regulations, not the Act, are the only legal provision that explicitly ban bikes and are what STC seeks to remove.
Before going into the specifics and history of the regulations that enforce the Wilderness Act, if you care about Wilderness, like bikes, and have not read Ted Stroll’s “Congress’s Intent in Banning Mechanical Transport in the Wilderness Act of 1964,” we recommend that you do so. In sum, back in 1964 key House and Senate backers of the Act thought that Wilderness was meant to “develop physical fitness and adventurous habits of mind.” That sounds to us like they would have supported mountain biking!
With regards to 36 C.F.R. §261.18(b), one of the regulations that enforces the Wilderness Act, its history is significant as it was not on the books back in 1964 when the Wilderness Act was enacted. The initial regulation that the Forest Service wrote to enforce the Wilderness act defined mechanical transport as
“any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device.”
So from 1964 through 1977 bikes were legal. It wasn’t until 1977 that the ban on bikes was issued by the Forest Service. Interestingly enough, from 1981 to 1984 there was a regulation that mimics what STC is striving for. The 1981 regulation provided that individual National Forest authorities could permit or deny bicycle use. “When provided by an order, the following are prohibited: . . . (h) [p]ossessing or using a bicycle, wagon, cart, or other vehicle.” So from 1981 to 1984 individual land managers had the right to ban, or allow, bikes as appropriate.
So in summary, STC’s goal is to address these federal rules that are used to support the Wilderness Act, and as such its goal will not affect the meaning of the Wilderness Act and will simply revert the interpretation and enforcement of the Act back to earlier how it was interpreted in 1983, and ultimately closer to the the intent of Congress which was to foster fitness and adventurous habits.
We also applaud STC’s approach, which is to not replace the blanket ban with a blanket permit. We concur with STC that bikes are not appropriate for all areas and all trails. Land managers and local groups should have the ability to determine which user groups are appropriate for each trail and area. Just as a blanket ban is not right, neither is a blanket permit.
As a result of our review of the facts, and the fact that the goal of the STC is to not replace the blanket ban with a blanket permit, we support STCs efforts and hope that you will as well.
Their website is at http://www.sustainabletrailscoalition.org/ if you would like more information or would like to donate to their cause. But the most important thing you can do today is to write to your congressman. The STC website has instructions on how to find, contact, and an outline of what to say. STC would love to see a thousand mountain bikers ask Jared Huffman for his support on this effort. So if Congressman Huffman is your elected representative, please send him a letter.
Access4Bikes Board of Directors