116 Conservation Groups Tell Congress: Keep Bikes Out of Wilderness

Here’s a Forest Service and public lands policy issue that has been in the news more and more: Wilderness and mountain bikes.

Personally, I own a mountain bike, but I wouldn’t consider myself a hard-core mountain biker. Then again, I’ve been known to use my mountain bike to haul deer and elk 12+ miles out of a U.S. Forest Service National Recreation Area from time to time.

I was also more than happy to put on my WildWest Institute hat and sign us onto this letter to Congress signed by a total of 116 conservation groups from around the country with one simple message: Please continue to keep bikes out of our protected Wilderness areas. Below is a press release from the organizations.

MISSOULA, MONTANA – This week 116 conservation organizations from across America have asked Congress to oppose attempts to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act and Wilderness protections by allowing bicycles in designated Wilderness.

“For over a half century, the Wilderness Act has protected wilderness areas designated by Congress from mechanization and mechanical transport, even if no motors were involved with such activities. This has meant, as Congress intended, that Wildernesses have been kept free from bicycles and other types of mechanization and mechanical transport,” the 116 organizations wrote Congress.

A copy of the letter to Congress signed by 116 conservation groups is here: http://bit.ly/1VFoL1U

The letter to Congress comes as some mountain bikers and a mountain biking organization – the Sustainable Trails Coalition – have announced the intention to have legislation introduced in Congress to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes in units of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

“These mountain bikers erroneously claim that mountain bikes were allowed in Wilderness until 1984, but then banned administratively by the U.S. Forest Service. This claim is simply not true,” pointed out the 116 conservation organizations.

“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,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch.

“Mountain bikes are exactly the kind of mechanical devices and mechanical transport that Congress intended to keep out of Wilderness in passing the Wilderness Act.  Mountain bikes have their place, but that place is not inside Wilderness areas,” explained Kevin Proescholdt, Conservation Director of Wilderness Watch.

“We believe that this protection has served our nation well, and that the ‘benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness’ would be forever lost by allowing mechanized transport in these areas. Please oppose attempts to weaken the Wilderness Act and wilderness protections by allowing bicycles in Wilderness,” the 116 organizations wrote Congress.

11 thoughts on “116 Conservation Groups Tell Congress: Keep Bikes Out of Wilderness”

  1. Administration/Moderator note.

    Two brief comments from “Art” with the email address “f*ckoff@outlook.com” have just been put in the trash. That type of behavior won’t be tolerated on this blog, as I’m sure Sharon would agree. So if “Art” wants to try again and re-submit comments please keep that in mind. Thanks.

    • Hi Art. The “point” is that I’m simply not going to go into the comment moderation system and approve comments that include a fake email address that says “f#ckoff@outlook.com.” Thanks.

  2. While I certainly wouldn’t want bikes in Wilderness I have to wonder why don’t the more familiar established conservation orgs seem to be signed on to this letter? I feel like I might be missing part of the story, and why all the broadband companies?

    • Hi Somsai. It’s been my observation over the past few decades that typically The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, NRDC, etc only sign onto letters that either they had a big role in writing, or ones that originate with the other big DC-based green groups. Also, I believe that some of the “more familiar established conservation orgs” may have not signed onto this letter because they have become much more concerned with politics (especially supporting Dem Party politicians) and these groups (such as the Montana Wilderness Association) routinely fail to speak when Wilderness or wild areas are threatened, especially if the threats are coming from some of their ‘partners’ like some mountain bikers, mining corporations or logging companies.

  3. Jet Boats ply the waters of the River of no Return Wilderness.
    Aircraft drone incessantly into landing strips in the Frank Church Wilderness, some in holdings have autos and machinery.

    Does anyone else see the hypocrisy?


  4. The mountain bikers’ strategy strikes me as very bizarre. I think the campaign to allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas originated with the fear of losing existing trails (most in Utah) to new wilderness designations, which split the recreation community. This campaign is probably a misguided effort to unify behind wilderness protection without leaving mountain bikers in the dust. But the answer is not to amend the Wilderness Act. The answer is actually rather simple: just allow provisions for existing non-motorized use in new wilderness designations. Each wilderness area has its own legislation, so there’s no need to amend the Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes in new wilderness areas or a select few existing areas that until recently had allowed bikes. And I think most (including mountain bikers) would agree that there’s no need to push for mountain biking in existing wilderness where mountain bikes have never been allowed. . . .

    On another note, saying Congress intended to keep mountain bikes out of wilderness is a pretty big stretch given the history and timeline of wilderness and mountain bikes. Just saying.

  5. Right out of the park Andy, you summed it up perfectly.

    In the past 10 years I have lost riding access to a 1000 miles of trails in Montana and stand to lose as much as another 800 miles. Much of this ISN’T in Wilderness it is in areas that are WSAs that are now managed as Wilderness.

    Areas that in spite of my ardent attempts at ruining them solely by riding a bicycle still have sufficient Wilderness character to be considered for Wilderness Designation.

    I invite those with an open mind to consider this alternate viewpoint.


    Mountain bikers are not the enemy of Wilderness unless you are a person who refuses to compromise.

  6. The road to perdition is paved with good intentions. Keep the mountain bikes out. Having collected data in several wilderness areas, just having people kicking and camping can, especially near the perimeter, leave quite the mess that the good folks who recreate collectively are responsible for but individually are unaware of. I can just envision the ‘sustainable’ erosion and weed eradication when trail work takes longer than the bike trip.


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