GOP Bill Would Amend Wilderness Act to Allow Bikes in All Protected Wilderness Areas

On December 7, 2017 the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold a hearing on H.R. 1349, a bill from Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) [Lifetime 4% LCV rating,], which would “amend the Wilderness Act to ensure that the use of bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and game carts is not prohibited in Wilderness Areas and for other purposes.”

The text of H.R. 1349 is only one paragraph in length, and based on the wording, ALL Wilderness areas in America would be open to bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and game carts.

Here’s some more information and an action alert on this issue from Wilderness Watch:

For over 50 years, the Wilderness Act has protected Wilderness areas designated by Congress from machines of all types. This has meant, as Congress intended, that Wilderness areas have been kept free from cars, trucks, ATVs, snowmobiles, bicycles, and all other types of motorized and mechanized transport.



Unfortunately, a loud contingent of some mountain bikers and an off-shoot mountain biking organization, the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), have convinced notoriously anti-Wilderness Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) to introduce H.R. 1349, a bill which would amend the Wilderness Act to allow bikes, strollers, wheelbarrows, game carts, survey wheels and measuring wheels in every unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

In an especially cynical and disingenuous move, the mountain bikers seem to hide behind people with disabilities in their effort to make America’s wildest places merely a playground for cycling! The mountain bikers list “motorized wheelchairs” and “non-motorized wheelchairs” as the first uses to be authorized in Wilderness under their bill (even prior to the listing of “bicycles”), though the 1990 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have clearly allowed wheelchairs in designated Wilderness for more than a quarter-century.

For more information regarding “Fake News” being spread by some mountain bikers, see Five Lies Being Used to Get Mountain Bikes into Wilderness.

You may recall that the STC had a bill introduced last year in the U.S. Senate by the Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, whose lifetime conservation voting records as compiled by the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters are just a paltry 9% and 10% respectively. That bill would have opened the Wilderness System to mountain bikes, and also to chainsaws.

Fortunately, last year’s bill went nowhere, in no small part to the actions taken by Wilderness defenders around the country!

Unfortunately, the new bill could very well advance in the current anti-Wilderness Congress, allied with the new Trump Administration that seems hostile to environmental protection. Rep. McClintock, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, also chairs that panel’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands. This means he is in a significant position of leadership, and could mean that this year’s mountain bike bill might well advance in Congress. McClintock’s lifetime conservation voting record is even worse than those of the Utah Senators, at a barely-registering 4%.

Last year, anticipating the 2016 Senate bill to open Wilderness to mountain bikes, Wilderness Watch spearheaded a sign-on letter to Congress in opposition to opening up the National Wilderness Preservation System to bikes. It resulted in a total of 114 wilderness-supporting organizations from around the nation signing on, clearly showing that the conservation community is united in its opposition to the mountain bikers’ efforts. We are in the process of putting together a similar sign-on letter for 2017.


Now we need your help! Please take a few minutes to urge your representative and senators to oppose H.R. 1349 and all attempts to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes in Wilderness.



At a time when Wilderness and wildlife are under increasing pressures from increasing populations, growing mechanization, and a rapidly changing climate, the last thing Wilderness needs is to be invaded by mountain bikes and other machines!

16 Comments

  1. “The last thing Wilderness needs is to be invaded by mountain bikes and other machines!”

    Does the bill allow other machines? Or just bikes? I think peoples fears of bicycles are bigger than their brains.

    The bicycle is perhaps the most noble invention of man yet to date. I say get the horses out of the wilderness, and allow the bicycles. Perhaps the best thing McClintock will ever accomplish. Bicycles do far less damage than horses and are quiet.

    • Hello Reuben,

      I don’t fear bicycles, I enjoy riding mine. I’ve even been know to transport harvested deer and elk up to 15 miles out of the backcountry on closed roads. However, I don’t want all Wilderness areas in American opened up to mountain bikes.

      Also, here is the exact wording of H.R. 1349. As you can see, it’s not just about mountain bikes…and as the release from Wilderness Watch points out, it’s sort of disingenuous to lead with wheelchairs, as they’ve been allowed in Wilderness areas since 1990 because of amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

      Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(c)) is amended by adding at the end the following: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”

  2. It strikes me as misleading to imply that with the passing of this bill, suddenly bikes will have access to ALL wilderness areas. The bill allows land managers to leave the bike ban in place for specific trails at their discretion. Opponents of this bill would suggest that if it passes, bikes will be barreling up and down the Pacific Crest Trail the very next day. This is absolutely false. All the bill does if lift the blanket prohibition on bikes. It can be expected that land managers will leave restrictions in place until they have a chance to evaluate individual trails on a case by case basis.

    Mountain bikes require an average grade of about 6% for a reasonable fit rider to climb. Riders also stay clear of trails that are full of tight switchbacks. In view of these two requirements, there aren’t that many trails that the MTB community would even bother to lobby be opened.

  3. Thanks for your comments David.

    As I pointed out above, based on the wording of the original text of H.R. 1349, which was introduced in March 2017, ALL Wilderness areas in America would be open to bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, and game carts. In fact, so many people believed that the original wording of the bill was sloppy and would’ve opened all Wilderness areas to mountain bikes that on Wednesday the House National Resources Committee, at the direction of the lead sponsor of this bill (Rep Tom McClintock (R-CA) [Lifetime 4% LCV rating,] amended the language of H.R. 1349.

    This is the original text of H.R. 1349, introduced March 2, 2017, which up until December 13, 2017 was the ONLY text of the bill:

    Section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(c)) is amended by adding at the end the following: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels, or game carts within any wilderness area.”

    This is the new, amended text of H.R. 1349, as of December 13, 2017:

    Section 4 of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(c)) is amended by adding at the end of subsection (d) the following: “(8) Allowable uses. Each agency administering any area designated as wilderness may allow the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized adaptive cycles, non-motorized bicycles, non-motorized strollers, non-motorized wheelbarrows, non-motorized survey wheels, non-motorized measuring wheels, or non-motorized game carts within any wilderness area. For the purposes of this paragraph, the term ‘wheelchair’ means a device designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person for locomotion, that is suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area.”

    • Sooo… Many of those things are much different than bicycles…. I don’t want to see carts, and motorized wheelchairs, or survey wheels in the wilderness. But bicycles (the most noble invention of human history) should be allowed. Not horses.

      • Sooo….I personally don’t support H.R. 1349 as originally written or as amended. So I’m not sure what your point is to me, as I didn’t write or support the bill. I’m just trying to tell you all what’s in the bill.

        If you don’t want to see carts, motorized wheelchairs or survey wheels in Wilderness I suggest you contact the Sustainable Trails Coalition or the author of the bill, Rep Tom McClintock.

        I agree that the bicycle is a great mechanical invention. I grew up doing a ton of biking with my family and actually live part of the year car-free with only a bicycle (a 1970 Schwinn Suburban). I just don’t think bicycles, or other forms of mechanical transport belong in protected Wilderness areas.

        • Horses do way more damage to trails and resources than Mountain Bikes ever would. Not only do they trample the trails, damage creek banks, and create terrible erosion. They Poop everywhere which attracts tons of biting flys/bugs, which attract a whole host of other critters. I don’t want to step in and smell horse shit while I am hiking in the Wilderness. If you bring a horse in the wilderness, you should be responsible for packing out your poop! That is way worse than a bicycle quietly pedaling along a trail.

          • Hmmm. I prefer horses in the Wilderness to mountain bikes. I am not sure that they do more damage than Mtn bikes if they stay on trails…. are you talking about off trail use? I don’t like mountain bikes generally in wilderness because they can go too fast relatively silently and be a hazard to dogs and people. We all have preferences. I’d rather hear clop clop than silence and swoosh.

  4. The Forest Service loves to have discretion so it can MANAGE things. But I’m not sure how happy they would be with a new obligation to referee hiker/biker disputes all over the wilderness map. Could add some more spice to forest planning (I’m sure they would love that).

    But if “there aren’t that many trails that the MTB community would even bother to lobby be opened,” why don’t we leave them legally closed except for those specific situations where a forest planning process recommends to Congress that they de-wilderness particular trails, and Congress acts on that specific situation?

    • There should be no de-wildernessing… Only more. A process to select routes that could be available to Mountain Bikes makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to allow them on every trail and every acre. The rules would be that on any multi-use trail mountain bikers yield to everyone, Horses yield to hikers, and hikers have the right of way. It would be even simpler if there were no horses.

      If you add carts and wheelchairs, and survey wheels into the picture… well, that just doesn’t make sense, unless you are trying to auction off the land… Likely the goal of Rep. McClintock (who needs to be replaced).

    • It would be interesting to look at Congressional land exchanges and sales- most of the ones I’ve seen have involved individuals who own land and seem to have an untoward amount of political clout . I wonder if there is a list somewhere.

    • I’m opposed to this bill purely due to the inclusion of survey wheels. Mountain Bikes are just held hostage here, and being used to draw the hounds off the trail… We need legislators with actual brains not just bank accounts connected to wealthy people to consider legislation that allows bikes. This is flawed, but we also need people to really understand why horses are worse for the wilderness than bicycles.

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