For the past twenty years, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation has been connecting Americans with their wilderness heritage by providing access to and stewardship of one of the world’s most spectacular places- Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. We help hundreds of hard working volunteers, including youth, develop a land ethic and give back to the wilderness by opening trails, restoring heavily used areas, maintaining historic structures and fighting weeds.
Every summer, our organization leads over 40 volunteer trail crews into the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness to accomplish this work.
The Board of Directors of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation adamantly opposes HR1349, which would allow mountain bikes and other wheeled vehicles in designated Wilderness. After thoughtful consideration, we oppose this legislation for several reasons:
First and foremost, HR 1349 is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Wilderness Act, which specifically prohibits mechanized transport. The framers of the Act intended to preserve vestiges of primitive America that shaped our national identity. Like many others, they did not want the trappings of civilization to intrude on every acre of our nation.
Second, the Wilderness Act allows access for everyone to enjoy these special places. It simply specifies modes of transportation that are allowed.
Third, it has been suggested that the Wilderness Act does not prohibit the use of mountain bikes and that the Forest Service arbitrarily implemented the restriction. This is simply not true. Section 4.C Prohibitions states in part “and no other form of mechanical transport.” It should be noted that the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service all banned bicycles on Wilderness lands that they managed from the beginning.
Fourth, allowing or prohibiting mountain bikes would presumably be at the discretion of local land managers. Oddly, this does not appear in the text of HR 1349, nor is it clear if managers would be tasked with allowing or prohibiting such use. If this is the case, there is no easier way to insure endless litigation as decisions are made one at a time.
Fifth, HR 1349 would set a precedent for other legislation that could further degrade Wilderness. What other groups might seek exceptions for their perceived needs? Motorcycle riders, pilots, snowmobilers and electric bike riders? Wilderness managers and stewards use mechanical and motorized transport and motorized equipment only on rare occasions and only after a careful analysis of alternatives and impacts; why are we providing exceptions for toys?
Sixth, Wilderness, as it is, has true economic value in the tourists it draws to enjoy these pristine areas away from the distractions of civilization. Only 2% of America is designated protected Wilderness. Wilderness is not just about recreation but has been said to be a necessary part of the human spirit. We must to remain committed to safeguarding these few destinations and experiences.
Seventh, many mountain bikers, locally and nationally. do not support allowing bicycles in Wilderness. The International Mountain Biking Association is not in support of bicycles in Wilderness. Their statements suggest their satisfaction honoring the sanctity of the Wilderness. In their words, they have plenty of miles of trail to enjoy.
Finally, there is a real safety concern with mixing mountain bikes and horses on wilderness trails that are often narrow and on steep terrain. We partner closely with groups such as the Back Country Horsemen of Montana and US Forest Service pack strings to achieve our trail work. The Foundation could not do our work without stock support. The safety and well being of all of our packers is a priority for us. There are 14,300 members of the Back Country Horsemen of America nationwide who help federal agencies and nonprofits such as ours care for the Wilderness. They share our opposition to HR 1349.
We strongly urge you to actively oppose HR 1349 and to encourage your colleagues to do likewise. It will benefit only a few while degrading the few truly wild areas we have left in the United States. It is bad for Wilderness, bad for the nation and bad for Montana.
For those not familiar with the intrinsic values and power of Wilderness viewing the video “3 Miles an Hour” may be helpful.
Furthermore, we encourage you to work with the mountain bike community and federal, state and local agencies to identify and develop alternatives for mountain bike areas outside designated Wilderness. In Montana alone there are millions of acres of federal land outside the Wilderness system.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation's Board of Directors and Staff