My turn: Ban on mountain biking in wilderness areas is wrong |

My turn: Ban on mountain biking in wilderness areas is wrong

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; In response to Adam Jensenand#8217;s July 15 Article and#8220;Lake Tahoe Basin forest plan: Mountain biking, snowmobiling fans voice concerns,and#8221; I would like to take the opportunity to educate the local community, as well as the members of the Sierra Club, Wilderness Coalition and National Forest Service Spokeswoman, Cheva Heck, regarding the governmentand#8217;s ban on mountain biking in wilderness areas and the upcoming vote regarding the legalization of established mountain bike trails within the wilderness designation.

Mountain bikers are banned from 170,000 square miles of Wilderness by the Wilderness Protection Act of 1964. With every new Wilderness designation, someoneand#8217;s favorite backyard ride like, and#8220;Mr. Toads Wild Ride,and#8221; is closed to them forever.

Throughout many years of misinformation, mountain bikers have been maligned with snowmobiles, ATVs and other OHVs by people citing environmental concerns. However, on multiple categories and#8212; erosion, soil compaction, loss of vegetation, and runoff and#8212; study after study has found trail impact of mountain bikers to be equal to or less than that caused by hikers, and far less than those of equestrians.

In 2006, a study by the National Park Service concluded that and#8220;Horse and ATV trails are significantly more degraded than hiking and biking trails … proportion of trails with severe erosion … is 24 percent for ATV trails, 9 percent for horse trails, 1.4 percent for hiking trails and 0.6 percent for bike trails.and#8221;

If environmental protection is the true goal of the Sierra Club, Wilderness Coalition and National Forest Service, then the ban on mountain bikes in the wilderness shouldnand#8217;t even be a topic of concern. The Wilderness Act does not actually mention mountain bikes at all. What is banned is and#8220;mechanical transport.and#8221; Such language is being used to keep mountain bikes out of wilderness areas. This subjective language then designates all ski bindings, snowshoes, and rafts with oar locks as mechanical and therefore should be banned from wilderness areas as well. Though currently allowed in all Wilderness areas, all of these provide mechanical advantage.

It seems obvious that the authors of the Wilderness Act never meant to ban any of these. The California Supreme Court found in 2004 that, and#8220;Congress did not intend for the Act to prohibit human-powered transport … Accordingly, the regulations of the Forest Service … prohibiting mountain bike use in Wilderness require reevaluation.and#8221;

The U.S. Forest Service didnand#8217;t even ban mountain bikes until 1984, when they refined regulations prohibiting their use. Wilderness area came under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, National Park Service, or BLM. When the Forest Service banned bikes, the other agencies followed. In 1984, mountain bikers were a small growing number just starting to share trails with hikers and equestrians. These two groups, with large established organizations and political leverage- joined forces under a banner of environmental protection and pushed for rules that closed wilderness trails to anyone but themselves. Selfish, but true.

Currently the International Mountain Bicycling Association works with environmental groups, land agencies, and legislators to create companion designations for new Wilderness areas. These designations offer many of the same safeguards as Wilderness regulations but without the bike ban. IMBA has been successful in the past, partnering with Oregon Wild on a bill to designate 34,000 acres of companion designation within 127,000-acre Wilderness.

The existing Wilderness ban is unjust on multiple levels. Forest Service proposals could ban existing access based on bureaucratic thinking and it should be every mountain bikers right to protect existing access that could possibly gain Wilderness designation.

Chris Malone is a Truckee resident.

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