America's wilderness is no place for mountain bikes

America's wilderness is no place for mountain bikes
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Congress is currently considering legislation that would undermine a bedrock law that protects America’s iconic landscapes, our traditional way of life, and the wild landscapes that we’ve safeguarded for generations. This shortsighted proposal should be defeated.

H.R. 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockElection Countdown: Takeaways from too-close-to-call Ohio special election | Trump endorsements cement power but come with risks | GOP leader's race now rated as 'toss-up' | Record numbers of women nominated | Latino candidates get prominent role in 2020 GOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget House panel approves belated 2019 budget MORE (R-Calif.), would re-write the Wilderness Act of 1964 to permit mountain bikes in America’s wilderness, where they have been prohibited for more than a half-century.

The National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the 1964 law, ensures that some of our remaining wild country remains as it has been for hundreds of years. By law, wilderness areas do not allow road building and other forms of development, and prohibit motorized and mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes.

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America’s public lands provide for a variety of recreation, including mountain biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, and horseback riding.  As outdoorsmen and women, we treasure the quiet outdoors experience that wilderness areas offer. These lands are vital to our traditional way of life. They are the places we ride, hike, hunt, and fish.

But wilderness experiences are becoming increasingly rare in our rapidly mechanizing world. Wilderness provides a place to unplug, escape the modern hustle and enjoy the freedom and physical tests that generations before us have challenged themselves to among our nation’s most natural and wild environments. Wilderness also prevents the fragmentation of essential fish and wildlife habitat that keeps wildlife populations healthy and diverse.  Increased mountain bike and recreational disturbances can have negative effects on big game species.

The balance that currently exists on public lands, with some lands dedicated to backcountry experiences and others open to bikes and motorized vehicles, allows for everyone to enjoy public lands in their own way while limiting conflicts. H.R. 1349 will destroy this balance by opening the last wilderness to mountain bikes that will forever change the primitive experience of these areas.

The 1964 Wilderness Act states, “There shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport.” This law, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support after eight years of debate in Congress, envisioned the "enduring resource" of wilderness as the last refuge from the influence of mechanization.  This insight rings true today and underscores the heightened need for all users of public lands to collaborate and ensure we are balancing recreational interests with the conservation values of the land.

Of course, there is a place for mountain biking on public lands but bikes do not belong everywhere. Across the country, sportsmen, wilderness advocates and mountain bicyclists have collaborated effectively to preserve access to key mountain bike trails and at the same time protect the adjacent wilderness areas.  These successful efforts offer good models for building partnerships between diverse stakeholders and land managers.  We believe that type of collaboration is the best way to achieve success.

For example, a diverse group including ranchers, anglers, mountain bikers and conservationists sat down together for several years to draw up a plan for the Hermosa Creek watershed, just upstream from Durango, Colo. In a real give-and-take process, the group agreed on and Congress ultimately passed legislation to preserve about 37,000 acres of forest as wilderness and another 70,000 acres as a special use area — that would be open to mountain biking and snowmobiling.

There is much overlap among proponents of wilderness and mountain biking. Most mountain bikers share a strong conservation ethic, and the bottom line is we should continue to work together.

We support protecting America’s wilderness and oppose attempts to rewrite the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes in wilderness.  We urge Congress to support protecting our last remaining wild places by rejecting H.R. 1349.   

Randy Rasmussen is the Director of Public Lands and Recreation for the Back Country Horsemen of America. Mack Long runs the Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters. Tim Brass is the State Policy Director for the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.