Double the Fun, Not: Recommended Wilderness and Wilderness Bills

Thanks to everyone for these discussions.  I would like to circle back to where I started.  Until this started in Montana (?,  I don’t know about what is happening with forest plans elsewhere), my view of how things were working was pretty much how Jim Furnish looked at it in his comment earlier.  People recommend areas for Wilderness usually that don’t have current uses not allowed in Wilderness, or the bill encompasses existing uses, so no “kicking people out.” According to this thought process, every likely area is probably already in an IRA, so is more or less protected.  We can discuss why IRA’s aren’t good enough,  since there are generally no timber sales or roads within one under the 2001, Colorado, or Idaho Roadless Rules.

Some people say, the problem is that they aren’t permanent.  As a person who worked on Colorado Roadless through D and R administrations at the State and the Feds, my view is that politically, they might as well be.  In the same way that I think the Bikes in Wilderness dog won’t hunt, I don’t think that there is a real chance of that happening.  Politicians just don’t care enough to spend the political capital when they are facing Big Environment’s lawsuits, potentially forever, over a situation that they have pretty much adapted to since 2001.

So I was surprised when I found out that at least in Montana, people are being “kicked out” of areas they are already using to make more Wilderness.. not only when the Wilderness is created, but in recommended Wilderness developed via forest plans.  When I worked on Colorado Roadless we had a bit of the same thing.  We had an effort to remove acres that did not fit the Roadless criteria and replace them with other areas that did (actually adding more total acres). The State Department of Wildlife collaborated on the acreage identification effort.  They wanted to put in acres to CRAs that had had timber sales, at the same time saying that timber sales should not be allowed in CRAs. It doesn’t take a well-funded NGO to have some kind of internal target of “more acres=better,” these were State employees with that worldview.

If we call this kind of logic (as we see, not only held by Wilderness advocates) “re-wilding”, then the question is “where does it stop?”.  It becomes a very different playing field than what I perceive (and I could definitely be wrong about this) is the case with Wilderness bills (at least in Colorado).  Here we seem to work out the deals with the different groups, counties and so on, prior to introducing the bill. From this distance, it seems as if everyone needs to be on board before Congressionals spend the horsepower.

Right now I am thinking that having battles over recommended Wilderness in forest plans involves the same groups, and only protracts the battles that rightly should be fought, and deals made, at the political level.  Does deeper analysis really help?  Or is it about corralling groups in a room until they agree? Is this ultimately a political decision (yes) and is having a pre-controversy helping or hurting?  Double the hassle for everyone, zillions of comments to be read, and definitely not double the fun.  Yes, I realize it’s required, but things have changed since 1976, including many acres added to Wilderness.

45 thoughts on “Double the Fun, Not: Recommended Wilderness and Wilderness Bills”

  1. About 15 years ago there was a change in philosophy for Region One National Forests in Montana with the goal of systematically closing recommended wilderness to non-conforming uses, in the belief the areas should either be managed for wilderness or recreation, with areas with high recreation potential being excluded from recommended wilderness. In theory this might make sense, if the FS did an analysis of recreational potential comparable to the analysis that is done for wilderness recommendation. The issue is that most recommended wilderness inn my opinion has high levels of both recreational and wilderness potential. In my experience once recommended for wilderness areas stay that way and inevitably in every forest plan revision I have been involved with there is always proposals for more IRAs to get RW designation.

    But back to your question of why. I think this quote from the Bitterroot Travel Plan taken almost verbatim from Region One guidance explains the underlying motivation,

    “…allowing uses that do not conform to wilderness character creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. Management actions that create this operating environment will complicate the decision process for Forest Service managers and members of Congress. It is important that when the wilderness recommendations are made to Congress that they be unencumbered with issues that are exclusive to the wilderness allocation decision. Congress is not the appropriate forum in which to debate travel management decisions.”

    The goal is to short circuit the negotiations and collaboration, by eliminating non wilderness voices from the discussion. Of course the net result has been to galvanize mountain bikers rather than sideline them. This may be a Montana thing, since while there is broad based support for protecting public lands, there is limited appetite for additional wilderness and our congressional delegation has become ever more anti-wilderness over the last several decades making the negotiations that have successful in other states less fruitful here.

    • Hi Dr. Pysher:

      It wasn’t a “change in philosophy” or a “belief”…It was our nation’s established system of checks and balances, most notably the Judicial Branch of the Federal Government, that required the U.S. Forest Service to do this.

      • To the best of my knowledge the region one guidance predated any of the litigation over this issue, whether it was the Russell Country lawsuit or the McAllister litigation. Regardless the Russell Country was over WSA and not RW, and allowed continued motorized use, just at lower levels that the motorized groups liked. The McAllister lawsuit also dealt with the WSAs and was not settled until well after the start of most of the Travel Plans that closed RW to bikes. Anyways the McAllister suit never said that WSAs had to be closed to nonconforming uses. It said these uses had to managed and social impacts needed to be considered. Is there another lawsuit that I have missed? To the best of my knowledge there is no judicial action that directs to FS to close RW to bicycles. RW in Idaho and Wyoming is in general open to bikes. This policy at this point is specific to Montana although it is being to implemented in California as well.

    • Lance, Thanks for this history. It makes sense to me “allowing uses that do not conform to wilderness character creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. ” But the necessary corollary is “if you pick an area to recommend that has uses that do not conform…” you already have a constituency with a “strong propensity.” Again, that statement would be interpreted by me as “if there aren’t allowed uses that don’t conform, don’t start them” not “let’s kick users out”

      So the FS intentionally chose a path that, as you said, galvanized mountain bikers. The question to me is why? Knowing FS documents, the arguments are in there somewhere. I would bet in the Response to Comments in the FEIS for the plan.

      I should also say that “kicking recreationists out” is not unique to Wilderness. Road decommissioning has been going on for a while, and I don’t know about OHV’s and snowmobiles. The two ideas (I think) are that the FS can’t afford all the roads they have, and they are bad for wildlife and sedimentation.

      • I think it is really important to back to the intents of wilderness recommendations during forest plan revisions. I dug this up from the Sierra Club circa 2015,

        In general any roadless area larger than 5000 acres based on these criteria: naturalness, apparent naturalness, opportunity for solitude, and opportunity for a primitive recreation experience. One of the criteria is not the political climate for support for wilderness designation.

        What I think is a critical point is, “The 2015 directives also simplify the wilderness evaluation process. Rather than evaluating the capability, availability, and need for each area, the new directives limit the evaluation to the area’s wilderness values (capability).”

        In my opinion this means the goal is to capture as much potential area as possible that COULD be wilderness. Whether it SHOULD be wilderness is a separate question that is left to others. This is an important point. The goal is to maintain as much acreage in as pristine an environment as possible. It does not mean that all or even a significant portion will ever get wilderness designation. With that in mind it make no sense to exclude “non conforming” uses. The quote I made above confuses the issue, and assume that any land recommended by the FS should be wilderness. In my opinion this misinterprets the role of the FS which is to indentify potential, not to make value judgements as to whether it is the most appropriate use.

        Recreational loss due to road closures is a separate issue. Roads do have impact on the environment. In our case the roads in some places seemed to be every 500 yards down the slope and we causing sedimentation issues on the watershed. Our NF has been closing and decommissioning a ton of roads and creating replacement ATV trails which the motorized crowds agrees is an improvement.

        • Lance, thanks for the Sierra Club link! It is very helpful to understanding all this.
          I noticed “The FNF process has been transparent, responsive, creative, and
          professional. For example, the planning team prepared an inventory process paper and brought in additional expertise (a landscape architect) to develop a workable approach to identify old clearcuts that were “substantially unnoticeable.”

          Good on the Flathead, and this also points to what I have noticed before..cutting trees is a barrier to Wilderness (or Roadless) character, but not when you’re rounding up acres to add. If cutting units grown unnoticeable, and roads and trails can be obliterated, then philosophically, there is no end to the need for additional acres.

  2. It’s on too technical a level for me, but I understand that both court and administrative proceedings are underway with the Forest Service in Montana to challenge the agency’s banning mountain biking from Wilderness Study Areas and/or Recommended Wilderness Areas.

    Perhaps, in this campaign that’s part of America’s dreary, incessant, and seemingly unique trail wars, the fallout from those proceedings will place the interest groups in more or less favorable positions with regard to Forest Service decisions, and then they can settle their differences, either among themselves or with the Forest Service, or both.

    Personally, I think this is all crazy, and I bet this current dispute lasts another decade before it’s resolved, if even then. Wilderness is a valuable asset, but the way the Forest Service runs it and the quasi-religious, non-evidence-based movement it has spawned are negative factors that I can’t imagine members of Congress foresaw back in the 1960s.

    • By “quasi-religious, non-evidence-based movement” do you mean the handful of mountain bikers claiming that the Wilderness Act did not ban bicycles?

      • Hey, Matthew — I mean people who say “bicycles aren’t meant for Wilderness” or “Wilderness isn’t meant for bicycles.” Such a view offers nothing on which to base a fair and sensible policy; it’s a tenet of religious faith or personal aesthetics and nothing more. People for whom environmental impact, which ought to be the top criterion for Wilderness management, is secondary, so they rail about the bicycle threat but remain silent about horses and packstock trains. If you haven’t been to Wilderness that’s overrun by that resource-damaging industry, I hope you get to one someday. Perhaps the Hoover Wilderness in California would be a place to get an eyeful.

        • But, according to the Wilderness Act – the law of the land, not some church – mechanical transport is banned. A bicycle is clearly a type of mechanical transport. So it’s really the Wilderness Act that says “bicycles aren’t meant for Wilderness” or “Wilderness isn’t meant for bicycles.” Seems like a fair and sensible policy to me.

          Also, do you seriously think that the ONLY Wilderness issue or policy that dedicated Wilderness advocates and organizations focus on is bicycles? I often get the sense from some of you mountain bikers who want to ride your bicycles in Wilderness that you think Wilderness advocates and groups are just “hikers” and “hiking groups.”

          Nope, us Wilderness advocates and groups all advocate for Wilderness policy that deals with environmental impacts from cows, sheep, airstrips, mines, ‘thinning,” airstrips, horse packers/outfitters, buildings, instrumentation, manipulation of wildlife populations, etc all of the time.

          Funny you should mention the Hoover Wilderness in California because right now a number of Wilderness groups are fighting to keep private livestock grazing out of the Hoover Wilderness to help provide critical habitat for endangered bighorn sheep.

          Join us in these Wilderness protection effort, if you want…or don’t. But please don’t think for a second that us Wilderness advocates don’t keep an eye on all this stuff.

          • No, I don’t think of Wilderness activists as full-time bicycle opponents. If prior comments raised any question about it, I am not an opponent of Wilderness—quite the contrary. I have spent a lot of time in Wilderness, backpacking earlier in life and now more often day-hiking. I know some Wilderness activists are trying to limit impacts of the type you describe. Wasn’t there a lawsuit a few years ago trying to stop horse-caused damage in a Wilderness in Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Park? I’m all for those efforts, and if I’m asked to write letters to agencies or lawmakers about such issues I’ll likely do so.

          • Matthew, I think your heart’s in the right place and I think you do lots of good work for the cause of conservation and Wilderness. But that’s why it’s so unsettling to read some of your statements and views regarding the bicycle question.

            Every time you and other avowed bicycle opponents repeat the mantra of “no other form of mechanical transport” while pretending there isn’t significant and compelling historical evidence to indicate what that expression likely meant in the 1960s, or when you routinely fail to recognize or respond to the fact that you support a range of “mechanical transport” technologies other than bicycles, you risk degrading the credibility of other good work that you do.

            At a time in our culture when simply repeating over and over again something that is misleading or deeply unqualified seems to be a popular tool for energizing one’s base or attracting converts, it’s a strategy that I think we should all resist.

            • Well stated, Courtship. Some people ignore history in favor of their personal desires of reality.

              Matthew, I challenge you and your google skills to show us common examples of how “mechanical” and “mechanized” were used in common English language in the 1920’s through 1960’s. There is a vast internet archive of newspapers, testimonies, studies and other sources and I can’t find any from that era which indicate those words reflected anything non-motorized. I trust you will be able to provide convincing examples to support your 1984-based position.

              • Although I’m not one of Matt’s peeps, EA III, I was intrigued with your challenge. In 1817, Baron Karl von Drais invented the first practical bicycle, which he called a “Laufmaschine,” or “running machine.” Webster defines “mechanical” as “having to do with machinery.” Ipso facto, at the time of its invention the bicycle was a mechanized (i.e., “machine”) form of running. And, thank goodness for that. I hate running, but love to race my bicycles!

                • Of course if you want to talk about machines. The six simple machines are the lever, wheel, pulley, incline plane, wedge and screw. If these are all machines then oar locks and ski bindings with free heels are machines and need to be banned. Likewise hiking poles are levers and should be banned. Then, why are kites and sails banned in wilderness, they aren’t machines, yet they are considered mechanical transport. On the other extreme, mechanized infantry did not mean the Buffalo Soldiers on in bikes in the 1890s but motorized transportation. In modern parlance, mechanical things doesn’t refer to mountain bikers with chainsaws clearing trails, but large motorized gas powered trucked mounted saws. The term mechanical transport is an ambiguous term that may have meant different things to Zahniser than it did to congress and the public who supported the Wilderness Act. In the end it appears that activities that the Sierra Club enjoyed doing in the 70s including rafting, canoeing, skiing was permitted and considered “primitive” devices while activities that they didn’t like or were new such as mountain biking, hang gliding, and sailing were excluded. That’s why there was so much debate between approximately 1977 and 1984. In 1977, bikes and hang gliders were specifically added to the list of mechanical transport, but perhaps realizing that specifically excluding those activties appeared to be biased. They had their definition by committee that eventually came out in 1984 that strained to find a way to appeared reasonable that would allow oar locks, but banned bikes and hang gliders. Along the way the FS went back and forth on bikes at one point considering bikes a mechanical aid, but not transport. Anyone who claims to know exactly what the term meant in 1964 is deluding themselves. Like most “originalist” interpretation whether you are talking about the constitution or the Wilderness Act there is plenty of bias in involved in trying to make that interpretation fit your personal preferences. I bet if you went to 1964 asked 10 different people what terms means you would get 10 answers some of which would include bikes and some of which would not.

                • Hello andystahl, I’m not asking if a bicycle, or an iPhone, or a rifle, or XC ski bindings are machines… of course they are. But I’d like to see evidence from the 1920’s through 1960’s that shows when people spoke or wrote about mechanical and mechanized things, they weren’t talking about motorized things 99% of the time.

  3. You say timber sales and roads are not allowed in IRAs. What about “fuels reduction” treatments, forest thinning, or whatever euphemism one prefers? Fuels reduction projects are proposed, if not already implemented, in some Wyoming IRAs. If fuels treatments are allowed in IRAs, the forest ends up highly manipulated and shaped according to whatever silvicultural treatments the Forest Service believes are best. An area that has been treated is not “untrammeled” and is not at all like wilderness, which is one reason why, in my opinion, IRA designation is not good enough for areas that still possess wilderness qualities. If they are to still retain their wilderness character generations from now, they need permanent statutory protection, as wilderness.

    Also, in what areas are people being kicked out? If mountain bikes aren’t allowed, that isn’t a ban on people. People aren’t being kicked out of recommended wilderness in Montana. They just have to unweld themselves from their machines and discover this thing called “walking.”

    • Yes thinning is specifically allowed in the 2001 Roadless Rule. The actual language is not about changing fire behavior and possibly preventing damage to watersheds and neighboring areas, but more about maintenance of ecosystem structure and function. You could argue that this is about restoring the past and is therefore out of date and needs to be redone… but no one wants to open that can of worms. an

      “(1) The cutting, sale, or removal of generally small diameter timber is needed for one of the following purposes and will maintain or improve
      one or more of the roadless area characteristics as defined in § 294.11.
      (i) To improve threatened, endangered, proposed, or sensitive species habitat; or
      (ii) To maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic
      wildfire effects, within the range of variability that would be expected to occur under natural disturbance regimes of the current climatic period;”

      But the fact that no roads can be built generally means that no products are extracted. Which means that felling and burning costs a lot of money, which means that it isn’t done often. Do others have different experiences?

      I think your comment is perhaps based in an area that is not like physically like the area where I live. After thinning, and maybe some prescribed fire, is done, many recreationists would not even tell the difference (I’m talking ponderosa pine here). Prescribed burning is definitely allowed in Wilderness. So you are saying that cutting trees is trammeling, but prescribed burning is not in your opinion? Because both seem like potential trammeling to me, but one is allowed in Wilderness.

      • Both are trammeling, in my opinion. Prescribed fire was controversial when first proposed for wilderness areas, as it should be, because it is trammmeling. Prescribed fires are often set during seasons when natural fires aren’t likely to burn, and are kept at sizes and severities chosen by managers (unless the wind comes up and the fire escapes). Even if infrequent, high severity fires are an important part of the natural fire cycle of an area, as they are where I live, managers want small, frequent, low intensity fires. So yes, it’s a form of trammeling, imposing human preferences on an area that’s supposed to be left alone.

        And even though prescribed fire is occasionally done in wilderness, I think even the most avid fuel reduction advocates would agree that mechanical thinning isn’t compatible with wilderness (I hope so anyway).

        As for the point that “many recreationists” couldn’t tell the difference between a thinned area and an untreated area, I’ve heard that argument from the Forest Service. It completely misses the point about what wildness is and what “untrammeled” means. The point isn’t how the area might appear to an ecologically uninformed recreationist. The point is that to the wildlife that live there, to the plant communities, to the invertebrates, the managed forest is entirely different. Many species that rely on undisturbed habitat quietly disappear, but the recreationist doesn’t know they were ever there. The essence of wildness is lost. Watch this clip about how profoundly a single episode of selective cutting influenced a previously uncut forest in the Sierra Nevada. Fifteen years after the cut, the area still hasn’t recovered its pre-logging bird life. We don’t know what effects our well-meaning actions have, ecologically, which is why we need to leave wilderness alone and why we need to protect more.

        • Alcyon, the fact that people suppress fires around Wildernesses and within has already changed the fire regime. Climate change, whether it is 100% human caused or 20%, has also changed conditions such that we cannot go back to the past. If the idea is simply (other than climate change, air pollution and jet overflights) leave it alone to do as it will under these changed conditions, that is OK also, but then we could wonder how much human powered and horse powered recreation if any is OK if we are “leaving it alone”? That may be the crux of the issue- I feel great empathy for the FS who has to navigate these philosophical waters. The clearer we are about the philosophy, the more we realize that these are ultimately in conflict- recreation and Wilderness- and in that uncharted terrain people must make their peace based on concerns other than philosophical purity.

          As to the Youtube video, I can’t help but comment as a scientist. If you want to attribute something to a cause, say bird changes to thinning, normally you would design a study in which other potential causes could be factored in. Like you would do it at the same time of year- except that migration might not occur at the same time each year. You would have sets of pairs of thinned and unthinned stands. You would identify and count the birds. You would probably also identify what it was about the thinned stands that the birds seemed to not like. And as the thinned stand grows up, it will look more and more like an unthinned stand in terms of structure.

          And if we back off from this stand, we know that if it were burned up, the species would have to go somewhere else, and there would also be different birds, even if the fire were determined to be “natural” if that’s at all possible with fire suppression and climate change, and considering whether pre-European people burning were natural or not. If they are considered natural, that’s a philosophical problem. If they are appropriately not considered “natural,” then how would we determine what fire regimes would have occurred without them (and how many scientific papers could be published to what end…?).

  4. Alcyon, I’m glad you raised this point:

    “If mountain bikes aren’t allowed, that isn’t a ban on people. People aren’t being kicked out of recommended wilderness in Montana. They just have to unweld themselves from their machines and discover this thing called ‘walking.’ ”

    You’re right. But have you thought it through?

    Obviously, we’d rather not be hiking or backpacking, hence this raging debate. But in a free society, we don’t have to justify our preferences. Rather, those who would limit other people’s freedom to enjoy life must show objective, evidence-based reasons for the limitation. This is not the former East Germany.

    So, if you can provide solid evidence that mountain biking causes some sort of objective and excessive harm, like scaring wildlife, fouling streams, colliding with hikers, or similar, and that those impacts cannot be mitigated by the same management techniques that work on other public lands, then I’ll be the first to agree with you that we should walk.

    I have yet to see anyone come up with such evidence. There are anecdotal reports in some busier areas of an occasional scare involving a mountain biker encountering hikers or equestrians. In those cases, if it is enough of a problem, let’s limit mountain biking to certain days or hours.

    But saying I should walk only because you prefer that I do so isn’t a good reason on which to base policy.

    • Here’s the thing: The Wilderness Act, the whole concept of wilderness, is about much more than what recreation you prefer or what recreation I prefer. The discussion keeps reverting to recreational preferences. The point of wilderness is to keep a few remnant places wild, for the nonhuman inhabitants and and the natural systems and the self-directed naturalness that used to be everywhere for most of the earth’s history (before humans took over) and is now diminishing to a few small fragments. It’s also for current and future humans to experience–the authors of the Wilderness Act thought that we had an obligation to future generations to leave them “the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” They knew wilderness was already rare and precious back in 1964, and that without the protection of law, it would not endure. It’s far more rare and precious now.

      They had to draw the line somewhere in defining what a wilderness area was. They could have created a land system where people weren’t allowed, and indeed that would be the best thing for wildlife, and there are a few places in the world where such reserves exist. The value of human-free reserves is also demonstrated by places that became free of humans inadvertently, like the area around Chernobyl. Wildlife is abundant there because they aren’t harassed by humans. I’m not trying to claim that humans on foot are great for wildlife, but I am saying that the creators of the Wilderness System had a good reason for drawing the line at opening these areas to mechanical transport, whether it was bikes or other machines.

      Short of excluding people altogether, the authors of the Wilderness Act chose to exclude permanent improvements, human habitation, commercial enterprise, permanent roads, temporary roads except for emergencies, motor vehicles, motorized equipment, motorboats, other forms of mechanical transport, and structures and installations. They also directed that these areas be “protected and managed so as to preserve [their] natural conditions,” and that they be administered “in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness.” The definition of wilderness states that “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…” Untrammeled means unmanaged, or self-directed–in other words, wild. The Wilderness Act went through something like 65 drafts and numerous congressional hearings. It took many years to pass. It wasn’t some casually crafted law, and every word in it was carefully considered. It’s really the only land category we have that demands that managers leave the land alone and let it natural forces prevail without human manipulation. It’s the only land category that demands that humans leave their machines behind. That’s what wilderness is about–places where nature dominates, and where humans don’t try to direct and manage everything, and where future generations might have some remnant chance to experience what previous generations took for granted–lands in their natural condition.

      So, at this point, we’ve managed to protect something like 2.7 percent of the land in the Lower 48 as Wilderness. There’s more that could and should be protected, but it’s being chewed up fast. But when wilderness defenders advocate for what is indeed the gold standard for protection, or when we protest against to attempts to weaken the protections for these areas, we are accused of “limiting other people’s freedom to enjoy life.” We can all enjoy mechanized life on the millions of acres of public land that haven’t been given this extra layer of protection. Why do mechanized recreationists need it all?

      What I’m doing when I stand up for wilderness is defending the freedom of grizzly bears, foxes, lynx, great gray owls, goshawks, moose, mice, beetles, and thousands of other species to enjoy their life in the remnants of natural habitat that remain to them. I’m standing up for the freedom of a few wild areas to go unmanipulated, unthinned, unlogged, unroaded, where nature (which has quite a few million years’ more experience managing things than humans do) can continue to operate as freely as possible. There’s more to freedom than just people’s immediate recreational gratification.

      What’s wrong with having diversity in our land management system, with untrammeled, machine-free wilderness defining one end of the spectrum and sites leased for intensive oil and gas development defining the other end and all sort of different uses in between? Why try to degrade and diminish the wilderness end? Most areas don’t qualify as wilderness, but why not protect as many that do qualify as we can, before it’s too late? Even if we saved most of what still qualifies, it would still be a very small percentage of our public lands, and the other land categories are available for all sorts of mechanized and motorized recreation for those who don’t like to walk. Wilderness is a wonderful concept and it’s sad that some mountain bikers consider their “freedom” to ride anywhere more important than all the other values wilderness protects.

      • Aliceyon- when you advocate for no human visitation to Wilderness areas, I will support you sister (brother?). If you require exceptions for humans that walk but can and do carelessly cause massive forest fires which negatively affect primeval flora and fauna for decades, well, your position is lost on me.

        Besides, why do footpeople need Wilderness anyway? There are plenty of other places to walk in the woods, mountains, deserts and beaches. Can’t wildlife have at least 2.7% of America’s lands to themselves?

      • Alcyon, the fact is agree with nearly everything you said, and I happen to believe I that a biocentric approach to wilderness management is correct. The reason this keeps coming back to recreational preferences is we disagree on where the line should be drawn. It my readings of the early wilderness movement, it is clear that machines Bob Marshall was referring to the in “The Problem of the Wilderness” were motorized and term mechanical transport in the Wilderness Act were powered forms of passive transport such as chairlifts, trams, cog railroads. Bob Marshall said as much in the minutes of the first meeting of the Wilderness Society. Bikes are different in that first they are not motorized (e-bikes have no place in wilderness, recommended wilderness, or Wilderness Study Areas) , second they require no infrastructure, and third they require the active effort of the rider of the rider, i.e. the mountain biker is earning it just as much as hiker. Bikes don’t make it easier, they make the experience different. Still I will agree that bikes do bring a degree of the civilization into the wilderness and are offensive to some people, so bikes, if they were to be allowed in Wilderness, should be tightly managed. Furthermore, an argument can be made that bikes should not be allowed where they have not been historically. The issue is rather going forward, do we allow bikes in areas of recommended wilderness and WSAs where they are established to continue their use?

        • I think there are actually two issues
          (1) Before areas are designated, can bikers have a window while an area is RW or WSA?
          (2) Will bikers support Wilderness designations and, necessarily, trails being removed in those areas, for some other trade. (This is where the local approach as Sam Evans talked about, is relevant).
          OR will existing trails be cherry stemmed or some other designation than Wilderness chosen?
          This is precisely where thousands of comments calling for “more Wilderness” or “more protection” are not specific enough to be very helpful. People who are involved and have been there need to be closed in a room with maps until they do a deal. IMHO.

          • Part of the issue you raise is the problem of dealing with a 30 year old Forest Plan and trying to apply it to current conditions. At the time of the Forest Plan in 1986 bikes were allowed in RW. I have friends who are natives who lived here at the time and they were riding. So Larry Campbell would argue that use levels need to fixed at those levels. Of course if you read his quote, it seems all users should be fixed at the 1986 level to maintain wilderness character. That seems a bit extreme and would exceed the management that occurs in designated wilderness. To me it seems clear that non-conforming transient uses are to treated differently from destructive uses of RW. Clearly if it is logged or a ski area is built there is no going back. With uses like bikes or other non-conforming non-destructive uses, the goal is management. There are many ways to manage use, of which categorical exclusions is the most extreme and should be used only as a last resort. Again my colleagues Mr Campbell and Mr. Milner here in the Bitterroot believe that correct metric for impacts on Wilderness Character is absolute numbers. I’m not convinced that is correct metric. In my experience riding in the WSAs and RW before the closure I would encounter a hiker once every ten to twenty rides and have gone entire seasons without seeing another person. Now there were some trails such as Blodgett Canyn where encounters were more common, but even the FS admits this trail had diminished wilderness character due to general increased use. Does it really make sense to close a trail to bikes to maintain it’s wilderness character if 95% of the impact is hikers and horses? Actually it is more likely 99%. I use this trail as an example since it the kinds of trail we are talking about double black technical trails that are going to appeal to a small subset of the most adventurous users who don’t mind pushing their bikes almost as often as pedaling.

      • Alcyon, this is an eloquently stated defense of the Wilderness ideal, though your last sentence about mountain bikers is inaccurate. I know of not a single mountain biker who would value prospective access to Wilderness over harm to the resource. In theory there may be such people, but if there are, you’ll find them using pickup trucks to shuttle downhill runs on their beefed-up mountain bikes. You won’t find them in Wilderness.

        I only wish you would tether your admirable declaration—”defending the freedom of grizzly bears, foxes, lynx, great gray owls, goshawks, moose, mice, beetles, and thousands of other species to enjoy their life”—to solid evidence that mountain biking would unacceptably impact these species (or others, like marmots, horned toads, and snakes). Then you will be convincing as well as eloquent.

        Please cite some scientifically credible studies showing that mountain biking does more harm than hiking, backpacking, or other authorized Wilderness activities. If you can make a persuasive enough case, I’ll agree with you and desist from posting on this issue!

        If your theory is instead that mountain biking isn’t more harmful but it will increase Wilderness crowding, I can accept that. Then let’s have a permit system where too many visitors have too great an impact on animals. But a permit system that doesn’t discriminate against some forms of human-powered travel.

        Mountain biking is popular on public lands of all sorts around the world and I have yet to hear of any studies showing an impact different from other human activities. In fact, I bet backpacking is more disruptive. What nocturnal animal wants to be near a camping backpacker—one who lights a campfire, one with a gurgling stomach that the animal can hear all night long; one that gets up to pee during the night; one that cooks a smelly breakfast in the morning?

  5. Recommended Wilderness is an administrative management area designation made in Forest Plans. Forest Plan Standards have the force of law. The Bitterroot (Montana) Forest Plan was signed in 1987. Similar to WSAs (legislatively designated 1977), RWAs Standards require them to be managed to maintain presently (ie, 1987) existing wilderness quality. It could be argued that the number and locations of bike use in 1987 could be legally allowed in RWAs, but no more. Mountain bike use was very limited in these areas in 1987. There should be no m.b. use in MT WSAs because there were none there in 1977.

    As for “getting kicked out”, the failure of the Forest Service to enforce the law is no excuse to avoid “kicking out” illegal activities, whether the failure to enforce banning bikes from Wilderness from its 1964 signing until 1986 or from MT WSAs from 1977 (when there were no bikes in those mountains) until the recent BNF Travel Plan.

    Wilderness was fundamentally not designated for users; it was designated to allow some of our vast public landscape to be a place for untrammeled nature to have its way and run wild. The Wilderness Act allows some forms of recreation use but not to the detriment of its wilderness characteristics.

    Uber-entitlement seems to be a sign of the times. Users and takers have dominated nature almost everywhere. It seems like a reasonable concession to allow the small percentage of our land that is still wilderness quality to stay that way.

    • Larry, I’m curious, I know you get out a lot. How many times in the last decade did you encounter a mountain biker on a RW or WSA trail in the Bitterroot ? Ten times a hike, once a hike, once a month, once a year?

    • Larry, I take it you stay out of Wilderness areas, then. Otherwise, how can you be sure that you’re not dominating and trammeling nature? (An elegant word, trammeling; it means hindering or interfering with, not trampling as some think.)

      If you do visit Wilderness areas, I look forward to your explanation of how your activities are completely in sync with wild nature but other human-powered visitors’ aren’t. Thank you.

  6. You bet. If it’s the RWA management Standard you are thinking it would be p.III-42, BNF Forest Plan, 1987. I wouldn’t call this a policy tho. It is an administrative regulation that has the force of law. It says Management Area 6 (recommended wilderness) Standard of management c. “Manage visitor use at levels that maintain thee presently existing wilderness quality. These are the same limitations as for the adjoining wilderness.”
    The BNF is delinquent in enforcing their own regs, but just because they ignore the law is no excuse.
    What is at stake is irreplaceable.

    • You should probably also include this

      Lands allocated to MA 6 meet the criteria for being recommended to Congress for wilderness designation in the future. In the Forest Plan, one of the goals for Management Area 6 states “Pending action by Congress, manage to maintain the presently existing wilderness characteristic and potential for inclusion in the wilderness system.” Recreation standard (3) states “Continue current uses which do not detract from wilderness values. Transitory uses such as chainsaws, trail bikes and snowmobiles are appropriate if permitted by the Forest’s Travel Plan” (USDA Forest Service 1987a, III-41).

      • I’m still trying to understand this… if there are already mountain bikes in an area, then aren’t mountain bikes “the presently existing w characteristic and potential” which keeping them would “maintain” but then standard 3 says “continue current uses which do not detract..” So these could be read as going in different directions.

        So it sounds like determining that an area has wilderness potential (by some agreed upon criteria somewhere) means that non-conforming uses are kind of automatically kicked out.. based on the FSH (how to figure out what’s potential)? and forest plan standards? And Montana is different because of what’s in forest plans, a regional policy, or ???

        • Sharon, first Gary leaves out several caveats, he has changed from RW to WSAs. They are managed under different rules. He also fails to mention that in the discussion of the passage of Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977, off-road vehicle use is specifically allowed. Subsequent court cases have confirmed that. In WSAs the legal debate is over the degree of management required, not whether access is permitted. Also while mountain bike use was minimal in 1977, there was clear and established motorcycle use. Under Gary’s and Larry’s logic. Motorcycle as an existing use 1977 could still be allowed, but not bicycles. Most people would consider this a head scratcher, especially since 1977 motorized use has been curtailed. In general most people would consider bikes replacing motorcycles to be a net increase in wilderness character. Furthermore, the BNF statement that “common activity today” was based on zero data. There was no baseline data in 1977 and do current data on mountain biking today. It was based purely on assumptions based on national trends without a hint of ground truthing.

  7. You bet. If it’s the RWA management Standard you are thinking it would be p.III-42, BNF Forest Plan, 1987. I wouldn’t call this a policy tho. It is an administrative regulcampbelllation that has the force of law. It says Management Area 6 (recommended wilderness) Standard of management c. “Manage visitor use at levels that maintain thee presently existing wilderness quality. These are the same limitations as for the adjoining wilderness.”
    The BNF is delinquent in enforcing their own regs, but just because they ignore the law is no excuse.
    What is at stake is irreplaceable.

  8. It might help to list areas of agreement and disagreement to focus this discussion (unless people are growing tired of it and this thread expires, which I could well understand).

    Areas of Agreement or No Reasonable Disagreement

    1. Wilderness is a valuable concept for keeping some land roadless, infrastructure-less, and motorless.

    2. Roadless, infrastructure-less, and motorless land offers levels of environmental protection and scenic values that roads and motors inevitably impair to a greater or lesser extent.

    3. The Wilderness Act identifies environmental preservation and primitive recreation as keys to Wilderness management.

    4. Wilderness is the heritage of every American. Everyone, including we mountain bikers who are skeptics about federal management of Wilderness, owes a debt to the people who pushed for Wilderness in the 20th century.

    5. Regardless of what Congress intended back in 1964, current and future politics are going to determine Wilderness management, including travel access.

    Areas of Disagreement

    1. There is, or there isn’t, a body of legal research asserting that Congress had in mind motorized travel when it prohibited “mechanical transport” in the Wilderness Act.

    2. Bicycle access will, or won’t, change the nature of Wilderness in undesirable ways, watering it down.

    3. Bicycles access will, or won’t, cause significant environmental impacts compared to other uses, or that compound the impacts of other uses current authorized, to an extent that’s unacceptable.

    4. The Wilderness movement resists, or does not resist, evidence-based argumentation about wildlife and other resource impacts in favor of personal aesthetic preferences about what Wilderness is meant for and how people should visit it (“you can always walk”).

    5. Some mountain bikers’ opposition to any new Wilderness, RWA, or WSA designations that will cost access to trails is, or is not, a significant political problem.

    6. Forest Service management of Wilderness is severely flawed, or is flawed but within acceptable limits, or isn’t flawed in any significant respect.

    7. It would or would not be better to compromise in favor of more human-powered travel, if only because it would, or would not, helpfully broaden the constituency for Wilderness.

    Please feel free to add to, or disagree with, this suggested list.

    • Lourenço, thanks for this. I would add to Areas of Disagreement
      8. It is, or is not, a good strategy for Wilderness advocates to risk the support of the MB community by advocating for non-MB Wilderness in those situations where MB use currently exists.
      9. There is or there is not, a logical stopping point to the number of existing activities that can be removed in order to facilitate increasing the number of Wilderness acres.

    • How about this one? There may, or may not, be a shockingly simple solution that involves little more than essentially reaffirming the then-official 1960s definition of “mechanical transport” as “propelled by a nonliving power source.”

      Then we can all gather together in the type of meetings that some commenters seem to want where we can discuss real maps, actual impacts, fact-based concerns, aesthetic ideals, religious convictions, and any other criteria that may be relevant to making practical decisions that impact real people, real trails, and real ecosystems. Our conservation/recreation forefathers might be proud of us.

  9. There’s been a lot of good information from folks very knowledgeable on the laws/ history surrounding the issue. Sometimes it seems we read the exact same text and come to very different conclusions, depending on predetermined views. I’m joining the discussion late and I couldn’t add much to the history/law aspect, but I’ve tried to educate myself regarding WSAs on the BNF and the current Travel Plan.
    To me the MWSA of 77 clearly states that the lands in question should be managed “so as to maintain their presently existing wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.” The BNF Record of Decision on page 25, states: “The evidence also suggests mountain biking has grown from non-existent in 1977 to a common activity today”. It’s my view that the Forest Service was negligent for not enforcing current use levels as per 1977 and allowing mountain biking to grow in the areas in question. It’s created a sense of entitlement.
    Over the years I’ve watched the FS turn a blind eye to increased recreational use until conflict could not be avoided. It’s led to contentious feelings, which could have been avoided had the FS taken proactive steps. It does not help when recreational groups actively promote these areas using social media which increases use, conflicts, and damage. Sport climbing and packrafting are examples locally and regionally in MT where this is occurring. (Incidentally, I’ve enjoyed both of those activities). We are out of “wild” places and recreation should always come second in my view.
    If it was about someone needing the “resource” to feed their family or survive I perhaps could have more understanding, but this is purely about recreation. There are hundreds of miles of trails and over a 1000 miles of roads for bikes currently on the BNF. There is not a shortage of opportunities.
    One commenter mentioned putting people in a room until they all agree. Its sounds great, but always wildlands come up short and are collaborated away. We should be fine with altering our recreation to avoid an area if it impacts the plants and animals or if it adds to already existing impacts. It’s no problem going somewhere else if needed. I hope we can be guided by restraint and humility not recreational desires. A few places without motors, mechanization, and modern gadgets is not asking too much. I don’t think the the plants and animals who depend on these areas have much more to give.


Leave a Comment