If Areas Have Uses That Aren’t Allowed in Wilderness, Do They Have Still Have Wilderness Potential?

I find the objection process under the 2012 Planning Rule to be quite interesting. Some folks say that it’s turned out like “another comment period.”  The idea was (which was also incorporated in the 2005 Rule) was that people would focus on specific concrete things in the plan, and not so much “you violated ESA” or “you did not consider the full range of alternatives.”

I’ve looked at some of the objection letters for the Colville National Forest Plan and found a number of interesting ones. Today I’d like to focus on this section of one on recommended Wilderness, part of a 20 page letter by the Northeast Washington Forest Coalition.

RWAs should be managed as wilderness. Pg 150 of LRMP – MA-STD-RW-02: allows mountain bikes & chainsaws in recommended wilderness. This management is inconsistent with recommended wilderness standards on other National Forests. Current levels of existing activities (such as mountain biking and use of chainsaws) will continue to occur until Congress moves to designate these areas as wilderness.

The 2006 USFS Handbook provides that “[a]ny inventoried roadless area recommended for wilderness … is not available for any use that may reduce the wilderness potential of an area. Activities currently permitted may continue, pending designation, if the activities do not compromise wilderness values of the area.” (2006 USFS Manual § 1923.03(1)).

However, the existing use of chainsaws, mountain bikes, and other mechanized vehicles is impacting the wilderness potential, including impacts on soils, wildlife, and aesthetics. Standards and guidelines are at the heart of a forest plan and serve as the basis for future decisions. Maintaining wilderness values is a responsibility the agency has under the Wilderness Act and is not discretionary.

I’ve always found some Wilderness discussions confusing, as they are part preservation of historic landscapes and uses (kind of a historic park idea) and sometimes protecting nature from humans, and sometimes touted as sources of recreation economic spending (obviously assuming that there is lots of human use). Sometimes the distinctions feel more ideological than other land designations, which are simply “you can do this and you can’t do that.”

What I don’t get about the chainsaw and mountain bikes, is that if those two things are bad for wilderness values, then if they are going on now, should the area not be recommended wilderness because these values have already impacted the wilderness potential?

I guess it’s just confusing to me that areas can become recommended for Wilderness with these ongoing activities, but the same activities between time t=(when recommended) to t=(when designated) would have such an impact that the potential would be reduced. I could even see putting a cap on chainsawed stumps per year, but how many chainsawed stumps would it take to “reduce wilderness potential?”

I disagree FWIW that the use of chainsaws has impacts on soils, wildlife and aesthetics. It seems to me that if you have a chainsaw going you get done quicker, get out of the area and leave the wildlife alone for a greater period of time. If aesthetics, couldn’t a chainsaw have a “handsaw emulation attachment”?

Maybe someone can help me understand these distinctions between actions which occur pre Recommended, and Recommended to Designated?

38 thoughts on “If Areas Have Uses That Aren’t Allowed in Wilderness, Do They Have Still Have Wilderness Potential?”

  1. The weirdness comes from the fact that the analysis happens during Ch. 70, then there’s latency before designation. These uses (chainsaw, mtb) are just tradeoffs to be considered in the analysis, to wit: In this alternative, we’re recommending the area for wilderness designation. What does that mean now, and what will it mean after designation? The agency has considerable discretion to craft management area rules that differ between recommended wilderness and Wilderness.

    The latency between these decisions is actually a huge advantage for planning, especially collaborative planning. The rules for a recommended wilderness MA should include “phasing out” nonconforming uses that don’t affect character in the long term. If those uses are phased out in a particular area, they would ideally be replaced in other areas. That gives stakeholders from pro-wilderness and bike-access camps something to work together on.

  2. Sam, thank you that is very helpful. Let me see if I understand you correctly. Recommending for Wilderness means that the area still has wilderness character (or PWA potential wilderness character) despite non-conforming uses.
    If the area is Recommended and ultimately Designated, then bikes and chainsaws will be out.
    However the forest planning process is long enough that there can be a plan developed to “switch over” bikes (though not chainsaws) to another area and develop”substitution trails” elsewhere. Then the switching over process could occur naturally as the new trails are developed, rather than stopping the bikes immediately when the area becomes Recommended. Is that what you are thinking?

    • I’d agree that recommending an area means the agency believes it still has character, or at the very least (especially with respect to eastern areas) that such character can be restored through passive management. In either case, the presence of nonconforming uses could be seen on a spectrum. A DOT highway is a nonconforming use, and mountain biking on primitive trails is a nonconforming use. Only one of those uses, however, is within the scope of the planning decision. I think if an area is recommended in planning, then the Forest Service has to assume that nonconforming uses must be eliminated. If they can’t be eliminated, then it probably isn’t reasonable to recommend.

      How to eliminate nonconforming uses will probably vary from area-to-area and plan-to-plan. But one possible strategy is to phase out with substitution. I’m not talking about getting all this done during plan revision, but instead during plan implementation. The plan would recommend wilderness and create objectives for replacing nonconforming uses in appropriate areas. During implementation, wilderness supporters would work with other stakeholders to help accomplish those objectives, at which time there would likely be broader support for moving from recommendation to designation.

  3. This is absurd. Mountain bikes and chainsaws do not leave lasting marks on an area and would never disqualify an area for wilderness designation. To suggest that mountain bikes degrade an area to a point that a tract would no longer be eligible for wilderness is ridiculous.
    If Congress designates the area wilderness, the bikes come off the trails and chainsaws are no longer available for trail clearing. It’s as simple as that.

  4. The problem I have seen in letting nonconforming uses in a area recommended for wilderness is that the side against eventual wilderness designation will say the bikes (motorized or not) are preexisting uses and should continue that way. I saw this in the White Cloud- Boulder area on the Sawtooth NRA. The Forest Supervisor did want to exclude these uses and when Congress drafted the Wilderness bill, these areas with non-conforming trail use were left out, It is better to have the Forest Plan manage those areas recommended for wilderness as that is what the ultimate management should be.

  5. I find the myopic focus on, and acceptance of, Forest Service rules in some of these comments regrettable. Mountain biking is environmentally benign and Wilderness-compatible. In fact, despite language forbidding “mechanical transport,” the Wilderness Act doesn’t ban it. At the time, “mechanical” meant motorized. It’s agency regulations that ban it, for no good reason. The agencies refuse to reevaluate their outdated rules, which shows managerial laziness.

    Because the rules are nonsensical, people mountain bike in Wilderness all the time; it’s only in the minds of the Wilderness purists and cult devotees that the radfahrer verboten policy guarantees bicycle-free Wilderness. To be sure, no one mountain bikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Boulder during the summer. But that’s because that “Wilderness” is so clotted with walkers that it’s about as empty as I-95 in New Jersey. It’s a Wilderness in name only.

    As for the chainsaw ban, that’s another strange Forest Service invention, not followed by the BLM or the NPS in their Wilderness areas. What it means is that you get to a Wilderness boundary and find an unmaintained trail network, covered with deadfalls and grown over.

    I find that some of the comments here are missing the forest for the trees, pun slightly intended.

  6. Since it’s plaily evident that the historical use of bicycles has never rendered a parcel unqualified for subsequent Wilderness designation, there’s a plain and simple solution to the dilemma and to the fracture that the bike ban has generated within the conservation community: Simply honor and restore the original “nonliving power source” definition of “mechanical transport.” For USFS, all they need is to undo their 1984 secret handshake with Sierra Club. Then we can all return to the original spirit and purpose of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and strength and harmony will be significantly restored to the conservation and recreation community. Cyclists aren’t opposed to Wilderness, they’re opposed to baseless and capricious exclusions.

    • @Courtship — Your comment makes too much sense and will ruffle the feathers of those both inside and outside the federal bureaucracies who relish rules for their own sake, or who are fervent dogmatists within the Church of Wilderness, or who dislike the idea of anyone having fun in their sacred spaces!

  7. Sharon asks an interesting question. I think Dave’s example illuminates the reality. If the Forest Service allows uses to continue, their users acquire political legitimacy and that can “reduce the potential for” wilderness designation. The momentum is always on the side of decreasing wilderness and this just adds to it. (It’s much harder to create new areas with wilderness values.)

    I think the mechanized/motorized question is one of statutory interpretation. We can keep arguing about it until the Forest Service decides to allow mountain bikes in a wilderness area and gets sued. I would say a biker could challenge a fine for violating a closure order, but the Forest Service certainly has discretion to close areas, wilderness or not.

    • We could keep arguing about it, and some folks certainly seem to want to, but I cannot for the life of me understand why that’s the argument they want to hang their hats on. Even under Chevron, if USFS changed the rules to allow mountain bikes in wilderness, I would bet my house that Wilderness Watch would win the lawsuit challenging the rule. The statute is about as clear as it could possibly be that motorized vehicles and “other” mechanical transport are not coterminous categories.

      I mean, how does one keep a straight face when one argues that the Forest Service could simply change the rules to allow bikes in Boulder White Clouds when Congress clearly knew it was excluding bikes by making the designation?

      I understand and support the need to provide backcountry mountain biking opportunities that reward the adventurous and promote what’s best about our sport and our wildlands. I don’t think that’s incompatible with a NWPS that emphasizes a different quality of use and user mindset. It’s just weird to me that the group with the least political power in this whole debate is the group that wants to ensure that it’s a zero-sum conflict.

      • If you ask most in Congress, you will find that few of them have any idea that USFS implementation of the Wilderness Act bans human powered cycling.

        The fact remains that the one and only time Congress actually called out biking in actual Wilderness legislation, they referred to it as a wilderness use, specifically listing it right alongside hiking and horseback riding as “primitive recreation” in accordance with one of the purposes of Wilderness as stated in the original 1964 Act. That is the only official Congressional position on paper with regard to bikes and Wilderness.

    • Jon Haber’s comment of this morning begs (i.e., assumes the premise of) the question of what exactly are Wilderness values. Many people invoke “Wilderness values” but never explain what they mean by their invocation of them.

      William Cronon pointed to serious conceptual problems with the way Wilderness purists formulate answers to that fundamental question. He has been pilloried by Wilderness dogmatists ever since.

      His analysis isn’t perfect; it is flawed in certain respects. But his main point is unassailable: that Wilderness is an artificial construct and, for conceptual as well as practical reasons, cannot possibly ever be the Arcadian idyll Howard Zahniser and others thought it would necessarily be.

      The array of contradictions surrounding Wilderness and Wilderness management grows wider with each passing year, with the Wilderness Act of 1964 frozen in stone and unable to come to grips with them. This phenomenon proves Cronon ever more right.

      To the extent that Wilderness operates on the pretense that it has been forever untouched by human activities, it is arguably a tacit endorsement of, or at least a marker of indifference to, the elimination of Native Americans, whose lands these were. I’ve seen it argued that Wilderness is a racist phenomenon. I wouldn’t go that far myself, but this New Yorker article is nonetheless compelling and will get the open-minded to stop and think: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/environmentalisms-racist-history

      Anyone who hasn’t read Cronon’s eye-opening “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” is invited to do so:


    • Your final point about agency discretion is really THE point that cyclists are making. Currently, the 1984 blanket ban removes any discretion. Lifting it would return cyclists to the same class as other allowed uses, except I’m sure we can all imagine that case-by-case bicycle access would be under far greater scrutiny. Scrutiny is fine – it at least implies a transparent, rational, fact-based approach to management decision making, which is currently absent.

      • I think Sam is referring to the efforts of the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC). STC has done a monumental service (and defied its critics, like Sam) in opening a nationwide debate in Congress and in the media about mountain biking in Wilderness (and, incidentally on certain National Scenic Trails) that the timid International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) feared to do. It’s worth checking out the STC Facebook page and website.

        STC managed to get three bills introduced in Congress: two in the Senate, one in the House. The bills would have informed federal agencies that their local Wilderness-managing staffs can decide if bicycles can be ridden on a particular trail or trails. In other words, bicyclists would be placed on (I should say restored to) the same footing as hikers, equestrians, and, ironically, the commercial packstock trains that have ruined parts of some Wilderness areas.

        Unfortunately, opposition from the pack outfitting industry, the equestrians, and even IMBA, combined with the Democrats’ retaking control of the House of Representatives, appear to have stalled STC’s work for the time being. IMBA actually does favor land-manager discretion for two wheels on trails. But only for e-bikes! That’s because its corporate-dominated board wants to sell lots of e-bikes, whereas support for human-powered bicycling in Wilderness runs the risk of alienating the corporations’ hikers who buy from them (REI and Jenson USA, for example).

        However, just as Bob Marshall, Howard Zahniser, etc., laid the groundwork for the Wilderness Act of 1964 (an effort that took something like three decades to bring to fruition), STC has laid the groundwork for a reasonable approach to human-powered travel in Wilderness, loosening the current nutty agency rules. It’s only a question of when, not if, it happens.

        In the interim, the agencies could settle the matter by letting their staffs decide on human-powered uses. But they won’t, probably because they don’t want the hassles of litigation and tens of thousands of public comments. Better just to let people mountain bike in those Wildernesses with decent trails and fewer visitors and almost never cite them. It’s a kind of gentleman’s agreement.

  8. Sam, what do you mean by “It’s just weird to me that the group with the least political power in this whole debate is the group that wants to ensure that it’s a zero-sum conflict.”? thanks! I am new to this debate so am probably missing something.

    • > new to this debate
      (Lucky you.)

      My last comment was lazy, because it’s actually a lot to unpack. But the basic idea is that the vast majority of wilderness advocates love the idea of more, bigger, and better protected backcountry areas where bikes and hikers can share our wild landscapes. And, with some localized lag, they also welcome the participation of recreation users into the conservation movement.

      Wilderness supporters also have some important priorities for wilderness designation and believe firmly in fostering a land ethic rooted in humility and self-restraint. And, to be sure, some of the priorities for wilderness designation may overlap with priorities for backcountry biking opportunities. In a particular area or for a particular trail, there may indeed be a painful tradeoff, but if you zoom out, the benefits to both camps of working together are much greater than those localized tradeoffs. Protecting wildlands from the many cuts that can whittle them down requires working together. Advancing a vision for backcountry recreation requires working together. And working together is MORE important for mountain bikers, because they’re the youngest user group and have the least political power.

      Which makes it strange that a subset of mountain bikers is on this crusade to make bikes and wilderness, at a conceptual level, zero sum. Even if they succeed, they’ll still be stuck with the same localized conflicts, just manifesting in different types of planning and project-level decisions. And they’ll be fighting against a conservation vanguard that will never again believe them when they say they want to be a part of the movement to defend wild places.

      A comment above really drives it home, talking about “dogmatists within the Church of Wilderness” and say that wilderness supporters “dislike the idea of anyone having fun in their sacred spaces.” This dismisses the very legitimacy of an ethic of humility. Recreationists and wilderness visitors generally approach wild places with different mindsets. The physical impact of the use may be the same, but the impact to our collective American psyche is not the same at all. Both approaches are valid and good, in my view. I’ve never heard a compelling moral argument that either should be excluded from our wild commons. But they’re different. And the Wilderness Act was intended to promote one of them in particular, on that tiny fraction of the landscape where it is still possible to be humbled by the realization of our individual smallness. To pry open those areas by force to a different kind of use and mindset is dangerous. That’s why IMBA’s approach (wilderness and backcountry biking are different but both good things) is so healthy, and why the STC crusade is so toxic.

      • It seems that Sam has convinced himself that the mountain biker ask is conceptually too upsetting for too many people and will ultimately be too much work to implement so the mountain bikers should accept their position in the back of the proverbial bus while advocates for bicycle-free Wilderness should accept much more silver and bronze standards of land protection. A painful trade off indeed.

        • I am not sure you read my comment as I wrote or intended it. The mountain biker “ask” (to maintain and improve backcountry bike opportunities) is one I support with all my heart and work. The STC “ask” (to reject the very idea of areas where we practice humility and collective self restraint) is one that I cannot support.

          I want cyclists to be part of a big-tent wildlands conservation team. There will be tradeoffs along the way for everyone under that tent, but fewer than if we continue circling the zero-sum drain.

          • Sam, can you share something that shows that STC rejects “the very idea of areas where we practice humility and collective self restraint”?

            Are backpackers, horseback riders, pack outfitters, trail runners, white water kayakers, rock climbers, and backcountry skiers practicing enough humility and self restraint in your mind?

            This sounds reasonable, quite frankly: “Just as we’re opposed to a blanket ban on bikes in wilderness areas, we’re also opposed to a blanket permit. Under existing rules, land managers have wide discretion and authority to restrict certain activities from certain areas at certain times. So just as there are rules one where one can camp, when and where campfires are allowed, and where you can ride your horse, local land managers can allow, or restrict, cyclists as appropriate. The bills we hope to see passed simply eliminate the blanket ban and return authority to the local land managers.”


          • Sam, perhaps you can clarify something that has always confounded me. I fail to understand how the choice to ride a bike make someone selfish and lacking in self restraint (in other words the opposite of humility and self restraint). Those are traits of the individual and not inherent in your choice of an activity. There are arrogant hikers and hunters who lack self restraint. There are mountain bikers who as self effacing and generous as can be. The idea that riding a bike makes your less humble, and bird watching more conscientious seems to be stereotyping. So I guess I fail to grasp how taking off my skis, or laying down my paddle and clipping into my pedals changes my character. If the question is the ability to dominate the environment, a horse does a better job of that, much less an outfitter’s camp. It could be argued that those people who state that since they hike they have a superior claim to this trail or this tract of land are the ones lacking in humility, and those people who try to impose that aesthetic on others are the ones lacking it self restraint. In general that is why I prefer management of these areas to be based on actual data on impacts and not the preferences of “preferred” users groups. Hiking and birding are as much a recreational activities as skiing and biking. By focusing on impacts we can create metrics and focus on mitigation, not exclusion. For example of chainsaws are impacting wildlife, in what way. If it is noise, there are electric chainsaws that approach gas models. Is logging or is the trail maintenance? Is there a time of year that the area is used by susceptible critters? Once we start to manage based on aesthetics, we start on a slippery slope in my opinion. Most studies I have read show that only a minority of hikers, around 30%, have a negative opinion on sharing trails with bikes. Are we going to ban trail runners for that minority of hikers who don’t like tights or fanny packs or being passed. I don’t think this is complete hyperbole. We recently had a climbing area closed because a few people complaining about the ropes being too colorful..

            • Lance, in all the threads I’ve blundered into on this subject, your comments are always the most thoughtful, and I hope we get a chance to share a ride or a beer one day.

              Managing based on “actual data on impacts” sounds great, but who is choosing which impacts matter? Is the statement “X percent of people were impacted by colorful ropes” not factual in content? Dismissing impacts as “aesthetic” doesn’t do it for me. The noise impact of a chainsaw, for example, could just as easily be dismissed as aesthetic. If a hiker is negatively impacted “aesthetically” by an interaction with a person on a bike, that’s a real impact. Now, don’t get me wrong: I actually don’t think that a grumpy hiker’s aesthetic is a reason to prohibit mountain bikes from a trail, any more than colorful ropes is a reason to ban climbers from crags. I’m just saying it’s an “actual” impact.

              But let’s set aside grumpy hiker aesthetics, and distinguish them from impacts to solitude, which are absolutely relevant to wilderness and, by law, uniquely so. (Sure, you can find solitude outside of wilderness, and some wilderness trailheads are anything but solitary, but giving legal priority to solitude is unique to wilderness). Mountain bikes do disrupt solitude for other visitors. Simply because of the differences in speed, they result in more user interactions and effectively “shrink” the area for everyone, even those who “leave those things at home” as @courtship suggests.

              But I guess your main question was about self-restraint and humility. I tried to get at that in the op ed I wrote for Blue Ridge Outdoors, and I don’t want to duplicate that train of thought here. But I want to make clear that I don’t mean to contrast those things with individual traits like selfishness and arrogance or compare them to individual traits like self effacement and generosity. I don’t mean to accuse any or all mountain bikers of being selfish individually. I mean instead to describe a collective relationship with wilderness areas. The self restraint I’m talking about is inherently social and legal. Congress intentionally prohibited mechanical transport, as something “other” than and distinct from motorized vehicles, because that was part of the deal. It was part of how we would all hold each other to the deal.

              • That beer sounds good. If you ever visit Montana I can we sit on my porch looking at a million acres of wilderness and the additional 200,000 acres of recommended wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas that surround my home.

                There are a few things that we could discuss. One of a few things I’ll bring up here, at the risk of debating the bikes in wilderness discussions which is off topic is this idea that returning to the original definition of mechanical transportation would end in a successful lawsuit. I have read Doug Scott’s articles on it. I agree that mechanical transport is different than motor vehicles in terms of the Wilderness Act. Of course one could argue that ATVs, snowmobiles, and Razors are distinct from motor vehicles. After all even in Keeping it Wild 2. The collaborating land agencies refer to ATVs as mechanical transport. Even if concede that these are motor vehicles. There are still trams, and chair lifts that are clearly mechanical transport, but not motor vehicles. Along with the history of the USFS debate on the issue, I’m pretty sure the judge would give deference to the agency. This leads to the question of where to draw the line on mechanical transport as the term is ambiguous, and I think it best to look the Wilderness Act, and I think the term “untrammeled” and “domination” are the key terms. I’m sure you are familiar with concept of trammeling in the context. So unlike motor vehicles with their roads, or chair lifts with their infrastructure bikes in general do not dominate the landscape of cast a net on natural processes to the same degree. This also should apply to the management of bikes in wilderness study areas. The debate is not do they have an impact. Of course they do. The question is to what degree are they causing a trammeling action. If someone wanted to build a machine built trail with features. That starts to dominate the landscape. If someone wanted to start a shuttle service on trail in recommended wilderness and the trail becomes a downhill race course, that could impair wildilfe and be considered a trammeling action and could be regulated.

                You asked what kind of metrics and impacts I would measure. I think that is site specific. That is different in North Carolina than it would be in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. If the concern in user conflict, assessing users volumes on trails would be useful. It is very possible that they use separate trails in the area or at different times of the year so that there is natural segregation and no significant impact on solitude of hikers and horsemen. Farther north in Montana it might be Grizzly habitat.

                Let’s take my rope example. Rather than banning climbing, a mitigation strategy might educate and encourage climbers to use more natural color ropes and webbing similar to the way they camouflage bolts. I agree “aesthetics” or more specifically goal interference needs to be taken into account, but it needs to be in a way that doesn’t prioritize one users groups preferences. Closures should be last, most extreme step, not the first.

      • “A comment above really drives it home, talking about “dogmatists within the Church of Wilderness” and say that wilderness supporters “dislike the idea of anyone having fun in their sacred spaces.” This dismisses the very legitimacy of an ethic of humility.”

        On the contrary, to my mind, this “sacred spaces” comment points to a RESTORATION of the legitimacy of humility by stripping away the hubris and elitism that insists one set of equipment is a proper experience of Wilderness while another piece of equipment with demonstrably similar impact (less, when we consider horses) is unsuitable inappropriate. If someone doesn’t think a bicycle or a GPS or a boat or skis or boots fit with their proper experience of Wilderness, then they should leave those things at home.

  9. The issue of allowing mountain bikes and other wheeled contraptions, in Wilderness has been discussed and debated a bunch of this blog.

    Here’s a recent post, which not only provided details about the 3 bills previously introduced in the U.S. Congress by Republicans, but also exposes the lie spread by Rep Rob Bishop’s GOP majority on the House Resources Committee and the Sustainable Trails Coalition that mountain bikes were “congressionally authorized” in the bill that designated the Rattlesnake Wilderness and National Recreation Area.

    See: https://forestpolicypub.com/2019/01/17/24591/

  10. To me the critical question when it comes to wilderness recommendation is whether the recommendation means the area could be wilderness or should be wilderness. If it is could, a less restrictive approach should be taken with less regulation and only excluding uses that irretrievably alter the landscape i.e. road building and logging. This protect a larger swath of forest. If it is should, then only the most pristine, least trammeled landscapes would be set aside with more restrictions. In my opinion congress meant for wilderness recommendations to be of the “could “ variety since congress clearly intended that they would be the ultimate artibter of what the best use of the land in question will be. In this case allowing non conforming uses is reaasonable as their advocacy for recreational use is as politically valid as advocacy for wilderness designation.

  11. “I want cyclists to be part of a big-tent wildlands conservation team. There will be tradeoffs along the way for everyone under that tent, but fewer than if we continue circling the zero-sum drain.”

  12. Sam invokes an ethic of humility and self-restraint as the reasons no reasonable mountain biker would ever seek a degree of access to Wilderness.

    I’m boggled by this argument. Sam must not understand how unexamined, insulting, theological, and condescending it is. Specifically . . . .

    One unspoken premise is that mountain bikers cannot ride in the backcountry with humility and self-restraint. False.

    Another unspoken premise is that authorized Wilderness users use the resource with humility and restraint. Not necessarily. I doubt all of the people trucked in on pack trains after answering Wall Street Journal ads for luxury Wilderness expeditions think the way Sam wants them to. I have a vision of them on satellite phones, checking stock quotations while the outfitter staff set up a table with fine wines and salmon.

    Another unspoken premise is that to visit a Wilderness with any other ethic than humility and self-restraint is invalid. First, that’s a theological argument, and theology isn’t a good basis on which to rest public policy. Second, it finds no value in other forms of nature appreciation or in exhilaration, excitement, physical challenges, putting oneself to a test in an unforgiving environment, etc., etc. I apologize for personalizing this comment, but who is Sam to insist that only his values have value?

    You can’t argue with people about their dogged theological beliefs, because they’re asserting articles of faith. You can argue with their attitude that society must bend to them. The Church of Latter-day Saints used to believe, as an article of faith, that African-Americans bore the mark of Cain and could never gain full acceptance. (The church has since wisely recanted. Wikipedia says “the change seems to have been prompted by problems facing mixed-race converts in Brazil.”) But I don’t remember the Mormons lobbying for for Jim Crow (segregation) laws even when the church held that view.

  13. The question is…

    “If Areas Have Uses That Aren’t Allowed in Wilderness, Do They Have Still Have Wilderness Potential?”

    The answer is yes, at least according to the U.S. Senate.

    Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 92-8, the decade’s biggest land preservation package. According to WaPo, the House “is poised to take it up after the mid-February recess, and White House officials have indicated privately that the president will sign it.” The bill preserves 1.3 million acres as Wilderness.

    I found the following buried on page 155.

    PARAGLIDING.—The use of paragliding within areas of the East Potrillo Mountains Wilderness designated by paragraph (1)(D) in which the use has been established before the date of enactment of this Act, shall be allowed to continue in accordance with section 4(d)(1) of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1133(d)(1)), subject to any terms and conditions that the Secretary determines to be necessary.

  14. Okay… I did some Google-fu and “Sam Evans” is likely an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. If this is true, and the articles I read are accurate, Sam Evan’s paycheck is directly connected to adding more acres of Wilderness to our country (among other things)…. and bicycling is a huge annoyance to him. ‘Nuff said.

    Sam – when your paycheck isn’t ultimately funded by Wilderness fundamentalists, feel free to get back to us with your unbiased thoughts.

    • > bicycling is a huge annoyance to him

      This made me laugh at first, because I’m first and foremost a mountain biker myself, but it’s exactly the kind of argument that is tearing our broader conservation community apart. Is it so unbelievable to you that someone can support mountain bike access in the backcountry AND non-mechanized wilderness at the same time?

      Even though I don’t think it’s relevant to the discussion, you should know that I’ve been a backcountry oriented mountain biker for over 20 years. I have ridden, walked, and carried my bike through wild places from Alabama to Morocco, including areas that have since been designated wilderness. My organization is currently helping mountain bikers regain access to a really important trail that was included in designated wilderness decades ago, and moving forward a National Scenic Area designation specifically to protect backcountry mountain biking in one of the best riding destinations in the East. And those same mountain bikers are helping wilderness supporters move areas forward for designation too.

      Take your zero-sum crusade someplace else. We don’t want it.

      • Good to know, Sam. You are puzzling though. Why do you support the 1984 version of the CFR’s surrounding the Wilderness Act instead of the 1966 version? Because 5 years… then 10 years… then 20 years… now 34 years makes a regulation pushed by special interest groups too difficult to amend? I don’t understand how your organization can help mtb’ers regain access to existing Wilderness without reducing the size of that Wilderness area. How are the Wilderness proponents taking that? Care to explain? You likely wouldn’t have to work on that much if reasonable bike access on a case by case basis was restored either by congress or federal agencies. IMHO, the zero sum crusade is being lead by Wilderness proponents who succeed in getting new Wilderness designations as well as mountain biking prohibited in WSA’s and RWA’s. They “win” and people like you who like to explore with their bike in those lands lose. Every time. Because a blanket ban on bikes makes no more sense than a blanket ban on horses, trail running, rock climbing, paddling or any other non-motorized form of recreation.

      • Sam writes: “Take your zero-sum crusade someplace else.”

        You’ve used this zero-sum expression many times but I think you may be using the wrong terminology to describe your view. In this discussion, the only zero-sum scenario was established when bicycles were excluded from Wilderness. It doesn’t matter if we believe that happened in 1964 or 1984. Under this rule, Wildernists receive 100% utility from Wilderness while bicyclists receive 0% utility. Albeit oversimplified, that’s essentially a competitive zero-sum game won by Wildernists.

        What cyclists are arguing for is called a non-zero-sum game. For it to be otherwise, cyclists would have to be arguing for bicycle access in all areas of all Wilderness where Wildernists are allowed. But I’m not aware of anyone making that argument. Based on all the proposals and commentary I’ve ever read, cyclists appear to be happy with the idea that some, many, or even most Wilderness trails would remain closed to them. In return, other Wilderness trails would be open. That yields utility for both cyclists and Wildernists and constitutes a non-zero-sum game. I’m no expert on game theory, so maybe there’s a qualified economist listening who can shed better light.

        At any rate, my point is that you may want to somehow re-frame your concern. Your fundamental assertion seems to be that the thing threatening Wilderness and fracturing conservationists is those cyclists who are resistant to new Wilderness, rather than the law that turned them into resisters in the first place. You assert that a lack of humility and self-restraint on the part of cyclists is to blame, and that cyclists should learn those traits (from people like you?) so they would find less utility in riding their bicycles in Wilderness. That just doesn’t sound like a likely solution to me. Finding a way to include cyclists on some Wilderness trails, however, sounds like utility for all.

        • This will be my last comment on the thread. The only way to add value for all stakeholders is, to begin with, to recognize the legitimacy of what all stakeholders are seeking. You say you are asking for access to “some wilderness trails,” but you’re trying to accomplish that by eliminating the category of wilderness as most of its supporters understand it. You’re creating the dynamic where if you get what you want, wilderness supporters lose the thing they care about the most. That’s zero sum.

          If you want to find win-win, then bring something to the table that has value to wilderness supporters–like support for alternative designations on broader landscapes or new wilderness in exchange for boundary adjustments. If your only idea is “logikully you should agree with me now that you’re not *really* losing anything,” good luck with that.

          > Your fundamental assertion seems to be that the thing threatening Wilderness and fracturing conservationists is those cyclists who are resistant to new Wilderness

          Hopefully you can see what’s wrong here without me having to point it out, but this isn’t at all what I think is causing fractures. Changing the wilderness act would change the way people relate to and experience the areas that have people worked to designate or defend with the end goal of wilderness designation since before mountain bikes existed. In fact, the only reason we have wild places to enjoy is because of their work, so please don’t be so quick to devalue their goals.

          • First at level this is always going to be a zero sum game. I have had plenty of discussions with passionate wilderness advocates and they have made it clear there is only one acceptable designation for landscape protection and that is Wilderness. This has been what Stewart Brandborg advocated until his recent death. He believed any compromise and any alternative designation was capitulation. When he left the wilderness society and formed wilderness watch he was clear, no compromise. Now he did great things and was the force behind a lot of new wilderness. He was also fiercely anti bike. Now I also know plenty of outdoor lovers who are passionate about wilderness and public lands , but are also completely baffled by the ban on bikes. Most of these people , who I also think are in the majority just want the land protected. They don’t care what it is called as long the mountain tops are chopped off and the valleys filled, or the hillsides clear cut. For these people allowing bikes in recommended wilderness is hardly a loss. So the question really is how do you create a constituency large enough to get a wilderness designation. Do you cater to the purists or do you reach out to other groups. If we want to protect the land we all need to give things up. I assume that Sam has found groups willing to negotiate. I have not had the same luck, the answer I get is why should we compromise we already got you kicked out of recommended wilderness and wilderness study areas. So any alternative proposal I can bring that allows bikes is by default considered a net loss to them. Where I live is already 50% wilderness and another 25% de facto wilderness. Yet they still want more IRAs closed to bikes.

          • Thank you, Courtship, for eloquently expressing what I can’t seem to do effectively with Mr. Evans.

            Mr. Evans: You are hopelessly entrenched in your work, attitude, supervisors, paycheck and idealism to make any legitimate sense of what is happening, with or without you. Bye Felicia…

    • Eddie, I don’t think it’s useful to attribute views based on paychecks. My observation is that distracts us from conversing with those who disagree with us- who are exactly the people we need to have discussions with so that we can understand their point of view. Further, people generally go to work for people they already agree with. Sometimes working for someone causes us to change our mind, when we are around people who think differently and hear their arguments.

      I sincerely appreciate Sam’s contributions to all of our discussions. We can’t find common ground unless we talk to people we disagree with, which I fear is becoming a lost art.

      • Sharon wrote: “Eddie, I don’t think it’s useful to attribute views based on paychecks.” I tend to agree – on an individual level. Nevertheless, I can sympathize with Eddie’s impulse because cyclists asking for Wilderness access are routinely accused of somehow being in the pocket of “big biking,” which is quite the opposite of reality. In fact, to the extent that “big biking” even exists, it is generally backing IMBA, which is opposed to Wilderness access. Maybe THAT tells us something about agendas, motivations, and power dynamics in the conservation/recreation community.

  15. Only in America..
    Baffled for years over the puritanical fanatical crusade some people have against a simple, human powered bicycle riding in the forest. Mind boggling really.

    What if the shoe was on the other foot & bicyclists were on a holy war to kick all hikers out of Wilderness areas. They get in the way, are oblivious all but themselves & have a tremendous impact going off trail disturbing wildlife. Oh the irony.

    Why we don’t just have an odd/even day biking/hiking rotation in Wilderness areas. Keep it simple & fair. Tax dollars well spent for both uses.

    Extreme “Environmentalists” -alienating people against the environmental movement for years. You’ve lost sooo many supporters with your “I know better & will fight to kick you out” approach. Glad the pushback is getting traction since we’d generally like to support conservation but not you’re one-sided strategy.


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