No Bikes in Wilderness. Period.

 

Dear High Country News:

You can’t read the Wilderness Act of 1964 and think that it would ever allow mountain bikers into wilderness. The language is unambiguous: Section 4 (c) states that there shall be…no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment”…and “no other form of mechanical transport…

The mention of those prohibitions in the same sentence of the Wilderness Act demonstrates that Congress clearly understood the difference between “motorized” use and “mechanical transport.” It banned both. Clearly, a mountain bike is a “form of mechanical transport.” 

When Ted Stroll and his California-based, mountain bike group, the Sustainable Trails Coalition (Writers on the Range op ed), argue that the “original vision” of the Wilderness Act allows mountain bikes, they indulge in wishful thinking. As a young staffer working for Arizona Rep. Mo Udall and Ohio Rep. John Seiberling around 1980, I vividly recall the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Max Peterson, meeting with us to discuss a new threat to wilderness.

The Forest Service Chief visited with Udall, Chair of the House Interior Committee on Public lands, and Seiberling, Chair of the House Public lands Subcommittee, because a new type of bicycle – one that could be ridden off-road – was beginning to be ridden through the Point Reyes Wilderness in California, as well as elsewhere. Peterson sought Udall and Seiberling’s confirmation that the words “no other form of mechanical transport” in the Wilderness Act meant no off-road bicycles in wilderness.

Both Chairmen quickly and emphatically agreed that that was the intent of the law. Thus, the current ban on mountain bikes in wilderness is not some outmoded decision by a Federal agency that “became frozen into place by lethargy and inertia,” as Ted Stroll and the Sustainable Trails Coalition insist. Rather, it is a carefully considered position based on the plain language of the Wilderness Act itself. 

I am not a mountain biker, but have many friends who are. They are great people who engage in a clean powered sport.  Many also hike and ride horses. To my knowledge, about 80 percent of our public lands is open to bikers, so there’s no shortage of beautiful terrain for their sport. But while mountain bikes are appropriate in many places, they are able to penetrate into wildlands much faster than people on horse or foot can ever do. That would mean many more people penetrating deeper inside wilderness where they would threaten the very “opportunities for solitude” and “primitive recreation” that the Wilderness System was specifically designed to protect.

It is unfortunate that there’s lobbying in Congress to change the Wilderness Act to accommodate mountain bikes – to beat this dead horse once again. My answer to this push is simple:  Not everyone needs to be able to use every acre of our public lands as they see fit. The Wilderness System as set forth in Section 2(a) of the Wilderness Act was specifically established by Congress to  “assure that increasing population accompanied by expanding settlement and  growing mechanizationdoes not occupy and modify, all areas within the United Statesleaving no lands for preservation and protection in their natural condition.

I believe that reference to “growing mechanization,” is more pertinent today than it was when the Wilderness Act was hammered out in 1964. In most Wilderness Areas, even today, once you travel more than a few hours from a trailhead, you are blessed with peace and quiet, and perhaps most of all, freedom from other people. 

And if I feel that way, imagine how wildlife feels.  It shouldn’t be all about us humans and our machines, cell phones and Go Pros. Wilderness is an escape from all that, and was intended to promote a slower, more reflective way of life.

The framers of the Wilderness Act were wise. They knew exactly what they were doing when they banned both motorized travel and other “forms of mechanical transport” in Wilderness Areas. With more and more people moving to the West every year, putting increasing use pressure on our public lands, the last thing we need is to open the sanctuaries of our Wilderness System to ever-greater human intrusion.

Andy Wiessner was a staff advisor and counsel to the U.S. House Interior Committee from 1975-1985. He worked on the congressional designation of approximately 400 new Wilderness Areas during that period. He has been a board member of High Country News for 30 years.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....