Bikers waffle on wilderness

  • Mountain biking at a resort near the California wilderness

    courtesy Mammoth Mountain Ski area
 

CALIFORNIA

A new proposal to add two and half million acres to California's 14 million acres of wilderness is gaining support, but not from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., says her California Wild Heritage Act will protect the land from logging, oil drilling and road building. IMBA, however, is leery of the proposal because it would cut bikers off from some of the best rides in California.

The group, which represents 14 million mountain bikers, supports protecting roadless areas, but it often opposes designating them as wilderness (HCN, 7/6/98). "Most people have no idea that wilderness will mean the end of bike access forever," says Tim Blumenthal, IMBA's executive director.

Blumenthal says that IMBA supports further protection, but in a slightly different form. In about 30 percent of the proposed wilderness area, IMBA is asking Boxer to adjust boundaries and "cherry-stem" trails, leaving them within a corridor of non-wilderness. And in another 20 percent of the proposal, the group is asking Boxer to consider alternate designations, such as national conservation area, that would protect land but still permit mountain biking.

Thus far in California, five IMBA affiliate chapters (out of 101) have signed on to Boxer's proposal, thanks to extensive negotiations. Says Tracy Sheehan of the California Wild Heritage Campaign, "Both sides are hopeful that the door is still open for compromise."