NY Times: When Biking and Bears Don’t Mix

NY Times, October 8, 2019:

When Biking and Bears Don’t Mix

Conservationists worry that the popularity of recreational mountain biking and e-bikes in public lands leads to unsafe conditions for humans, as well as for bears and other wildlife.

The article begins with an account of a mtn. biker killed by a grizzly:

Mr. Treat, an avid mountain biker, was zipping along at about 25 miles an hour through dense forest near Glacier National Park in the middle of a summer afternoon when he collided with a large male grizzly bear.

And mentions efforts to stop two ultramarathons in the Flathead National Forest.

Vast tracts of public land in the West have become favorite haunts of a growing number of mountain bikers, exploring wild areas for recreation. The Trump administration recently allowed e-bikes, or electric bikes, to be used on some trails under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department where bicycles are allowed.

The increasing popularity of trail biking has brought to the fore some of the inherent conflicts in the uses of public land — natural regions or playgrounds. And while the growth of tourism may help local businesses, the forays into deeper parts of the forests by more and more people are encroaching on wildlife.

Mechanized mountain bikes and e-bikes, especially at higher speeds, are incompatible with hiking, hunting, and bird and wildlife watching, some argue. Safety is also a concern. Some mountain bikers revel at bombing down trails at 20 or 30 miles per hour on single-track trails that hikers also frequent.

And biologists like Dr. Servheen who have spent decades studying grizzlies offer reminders about protecting the bears and other wildlife that unwittingly share their territory with more people and more mechanized vehicles.

In its report on Mr. Treat’s fatal accident, the interagency committee concluded: “The bear apparently had no time to move to avoid the collision. At a speed of 20-25 miles per hour, there were only one-to-two seconds between rounding the curve, the victim seeing the bear in the trail and impacting the bear.”

45 thoughts on “NY Times: When Biking and Bears Don’t Mix”

  1. Ah.. the NY Times
    1. Human being was killed by grizzly bear during mountain biking in 2016 (three years ago)
    2. Trump administration tries to change rules on e-bikes.
    3. Therefore it’s time to twist e-biking and mountain biking into togetherness, because even non- MBs are “mechanized” and that’s gotta be bad. Somewhere on the slippery slope of the Pyramid of Pristinity to motorized- but perhaps now it can be said out loud due to e-bikes.

    I am totally OK with pointing out environmental consequences of MB ing… still the timing is questionable, especially during hunting season, when plenty of folks are out there disturbing, and being disturbed by, bears. I also feel a bit of creepiness about using a human death to make the case against MBs (or for bears?).

    But this is also very close in time to when our friends at CBD filed “The lawsuit says the agency should evaluate the possibility of reintroducing grizzlies into their historic habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington.” https://ktar.com/story/2632453/conservation-group-proposes-bringing-grizzly-bears-back-into-arizona/

    If recreation is not compatible with bears and we get bears everywhere then…

    “Mechanized mountain bikes and e-bikes, especially at higher speeds, are incompatible with hiking, hunting, and bird and wildlife watching, some argue. Safety is also a concern. Some mountain bikers revel at bombing down trails at 20 or 30 miles per hour on single-track trails that hikers also frequent.” And who are these “some” who argue that? I bet there are others, like me, who have never been on an MB, who don’t think that they are incompatible or necessarily unsafe. Bad MBing behavior can be unsafe (to themselves and others), unleashed dogs can be unsafe, ill-mannered horses can be unsafe, hunters shooting carelessly, and ATVers (but it’s hard not to hear them coming and get out of the way). We’ve had MBing and sharing the trail for years now (at least 25), so have they suddenly become the target of “some people’s” concern?

    It seems to me that the “some” who mix wildlife concerns and safety are simply arguing for reducing MB use, using whatever argument that they think sounds plausible. We may not have read the literature on wildlife effects, but I think reasonable people could disagree about whether bad MBers are more dangerous than bad other users.

    • Ah…Sharon,

      The author of the article, which yes, appeared in the New York Times, is Jim Robbins. Jim has been a journalist and reporter for 35 years, writing primarily on science and environmental issues in the American west. Jim Robbins has also lived in Helena, Montana for 40 years. There are very few journalists alive that know more about western issues, wildlife issues and public lands issue than Jim Robbins. In fact, if you know of a more experienced journalist covering these issues over the past 35 years in the western united States please tell us who you think that would be.

      Also, regarding your point #1. It’s been clear to many of us in Montana the Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber has done more than anyone to use the death of Treat (and opinions of his wife) to justify allowing more mountain biking in core grizzly bear habitat, and also to justify the permitting of a 50K run right through the middle of core grizzly bear habitat. Here’s a recent article that digs into those issues more.

      Regarding your point #3. We are quickly approaching the point where many (most/all?) future mountain bikes, or even bicycles in general, will come with an electric motor. The technology on this has evolved dramatically in the past couple of years and one has to assume in 3, or 5 or 10 years, people may not even be able to tell any difference between a traditional mountain bike and a mountain bike with an electric motor.

      Given the fact that right now the USFS is massively under-staffed in terms of rangers, especially Wilderness Rangers (NOTE: My wife was is a former USFS Wilderness Ranger) there is a very real threat non-motorized trails on U.S. Forest Service lands will be over-run with mountain bikes with electric motors in the very near future. Nobody is attempting to “twist” anything here. It’s happening right before our very eyes for everyone to see.

      • So I noticed that the Times issued a correction.

        “Correction October 8, 2019
        An earlier version of this article misstated the scope of a decision by the Trump administration to allow electric bikes on trails on federal land.The e-bikes are permitted in national parks and other lands under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department, but not national forests under the Department of Agriculture.”

        Kind of a glaring error for an expert on environmental issues, wouldn’t you say?

        • For whatever it’s worth, here’s what the original passage in the article stated. Perhaps an editor re-worked/worded it or perhaps Jim Robbins was mistaken. Nice that they issued a correction.

          “Vast tracts of public land in the West have become favorite haunts of a growing number of mountain bikers, exploring wild areas for recreation. The Trump administration recently allowed e-bikes, or electric bikes, to be used on all federal trails where bicycles are allowed.”

          I should point out that I’ve even seen various federal public lands management agencies issue totally incorrect statements about e-bikes. For example, a few weeks ago the Flathead National Forest in Montana issued an official press release claim that:

          “The Flathead National Forest currently has 3,560 miles of road and 385 miles of trails available for e-bike use.”

          Keith Hammer of Swan View Coalition immediately caught that error. Turns out the Forest Service was incorrect by over 2,000 miles of roads and trails. The USFS issued the following correction:

          “The Flathead National Forest currently has 1,427 miles of road and 226 miles of trails available for e-bike use.”

          Kind of a glaring error for a federal public lands management agency, wouldn’t you say?

          P.S. Remember when the Sustainable Trails Coalition Ted Stroll lied before a U.S. House Committee when he claimed something to the effect that the bill creating the Rattlesnake Wilderness allowed mountain bikes in Wilderness? Totally not true. Kind of a glaring error for an ‘expert’ on Wilderness Act policy and an attorney, wouldn’t you say?

    • Sharon, exactamundo. You are entirely correct. I wonder if this advocacy piece against mountain biking is on The New York Times‘s Facebook page. It would be interesting to read the comments.

  2. It’s always interesting when the NYT wades into issues they have no clue about, mechanized mountain bikes in contrast to … ?

    Like a similar article in Outside, quoting the same people, the same errors are made. First there is the assumption that mountain biking on these trails is a new phenomenon. People have been riding mountain biking around Glacier and Whitefish for decades during which the Grizzly population has steadily increased to the point where pretty much every trail in NW Montana would be consider grizzly territory.

    Both ultras that were contested were on front country trails, and was the attack that resulted in the death of Mr. Treat.

    E-bikes are a potential issues, but as of this time nearly every trail that would be at issue is close to them.

    Fears about fat bikes seem overblown. They are limited to groomed trails and are useless in unpacked snow. Backcountry skiers, another growing users group, are presumably are greater winter threat.

    Mr ______ in his concerns about mountain bikes states that he fears another attack on mountain bikers will make it appear that bear are dangerous and decrease support for their presence. First bears are dangerous. Isn’t that part of the concern. This years grizzlies have attacked four hunters already this season in Montana. I believe there were three deaths to hunters from bears in Wyoming and Montana last years along several additional maulings. I don’t recall him advocating for not hunting in bear territory or hunters advocating for the removal of bears. In other quotes he stated that the USFS should not be promoting risky behavior; yet nearly every National Forest does avalanche forecasting, which seems imply support for outdoor recreation in dangerous terrain. It seems to me that if we want to expand the range inhabited by bears, telling people that the presence of bears will require closing the surrounding forest to trail running and mountain biking is more likely to generate opposition to bears that the remote threat of an injury. Teaching bear safe cycling and focused trail trail closures to all users when bears are known to be in the area makes more sense.

    • As mentioned, the journalist who wrote the article is named Jim Robbins. Jim has written extensively on these issues for 35 years and has lived in Helena, Montana for 40 years. Jim’s also written 5 books on these types of western public lands issues. I realize it’s cool, and somewhat easy, to bash the New York Times, but I believe a journalist who has written about these topics for 35 years and has lived these issues for 40 years may just in fact “have a clue.”

      • He may know land management, wilderness and conflict, but when it comes to reality of mountain bikes the article just bleeds ignorance. I stand by my statement. Why the addition of mechanized to mountain bike. Are there unmechanized mountain bikes? Would that be a rigid single speed. I’m not convince that bikes are any faster than they were a decade ago. Fat bikes don’t go far into the backcountry once there is snow on the ground. That statement is just fear mongering. The use of the word bombing trails is perjorative and the speeds claimed are not supported by any evidence other that the words of the anti-bike crowd. Even if true, that does it have to do with grizzlies if it is being done on front country grizzly free trails around his hometown of Helena. As far as e-bikes, I disagree with your statement that all bikes will be e-bikes in 3 or 5 years. I know few mountain bikers who are excited about the idea at least here in the Bitterroot.

        I’m just curious do you also oppose hunting in grizzly territory or in general. By any measure, you are far more likely to have a negative encounter when carrying a rifle than when pedaling. Four so far this season as I mentioned. When it comes to elk, stressing and causing them flee is endemic to hunting for two straight months. At least with bikes there is the possibility of habituation, something that is not possible with hunting.

  3. Another brilliant hit piece by the anti-bike brigade! Congrats on getting this round of fiction published in The NY Times! The relentless effort to demonize bicycles and bicyclists is impressive! It is also incredibly laughable to any reasonable human being. Anti-bike myopia is a disease. It is very easy to diagnose. The treatment is to ban all the activities the diseased are trying to protect for themselves, since those activities have similar if not more negative impacts on wildlife.

  4. When two of the most expert bear biologists in North America speak out about their deep concerns for the bear — based on their expertise and other science — its a big story and deserves to be told.

    • I suppose I need to look up the research these experts have published that discusses the impacts of other forms or recreation (hiking, hunting, horseback riding, etc) in grizzly bear country… unless someone else already has links.

    • I don’t think anyone thinks that this issue should not be reported on. It’s just that many of us still hold the NYT as the pinnacle of reporting and in general this objective reporting comes of more as an op-ed for the opinions of Dr. Servheen. I can only assume that he was deeply affected by his investigation into the death of Mr. Treat and hopes no one else will have the same fate. Nevertheless, in the end most of his quotes are opinions not facts and for the readers of the Times a little context could be helpful. Perhaps mentioning that the recent race in Whitefish occurred predominantly at a developed ski resort and local front country trails a miles from town. That Mr Treat died on trails basically in his backyard. It would useful to point out the other encounters that people have been having with bears to demonstrate the uniqueness of the bike bear collision. It could have been mentioned that bear human encounters are not unusual in Montana and that 4 hunters have been injured in the last month. You could have reported that despite the increase in recreational use in the Flathead the grizzly population is increasing and expanding their range. The Bitterroot had its first documented bear in decades.

      Then there is this statement. “Dr. Servheen also believes that the sensational news of a grizzly bear killing a bike rider works against the bear from a public relations standpoint.” This is again pure opinion. What is the evidence. I know of no mountain biker or mountain biking group that has advocated against grizzlies or changed their behavior. Those of us who live in Montana accept the inherent risk of living in a place that still has predators. In all honesty it is part of the appeal. In my opinion, which I’m not presenting as fact, I believe the contrary, that advocating for restricting access to protect bears is a greater threat to support for the presence of grizzly. I encouraged that they are expanding their territory and hope that eventually establish a permanent population in the Bitterroot, but if you start closing trails to protect them, that will lead to backlash.

      In addition there seem to be an presumably subconscious bias against bikes. We are either bombing down runs or minimizing the risk. Inevitably bikes are described as mechanical or mechanized even when adjective in unnecessary.

      When you interviewed Dr. Herrero you could have asked him what he found when he studied bears in Banff, what the recommendation were of Parks Canada are the steps they took to minimize the risks and if they were successful in decreasing close calls without banning bikes. I didn’t see him sounding an alarm as much as stating the fact that bears sometimes attack when startled and bikes sometimes being quiet are more likely to encroach too close to bears.

      Then there is the almost Trumpian quote, “Mechanized mountain bikes and e-bikes, especially at higher speeds, are incompatible with hiking, hunting, and bird and wildlife watching, some argue. ” with the “some argue.” Who are these people and what is their evidence other than personal preference?

      Then there is the final quote. “I am not against mountain biking,” he said. “But we need to understand grizzlies don’t have any other place to go. It’s their living room.” Fine if it is their living room, why are we only singling out bikes? Does that mean it is ok to hike, ride horses, hunt, camp, ski or run?

      I agree , figuring out how we balance an expanding bear population with recreation is a big story. I just wish your reporting had been more objective.

  5. I think you all are being a little overly critical of this article. Yes it’s certainly possible to figure out where the writer stands via bombing down the trail and mechanized machines, but these days that’s considered tame fare amongst outdoor writers.

    The researcher whom Robbins quotes the most often, Servheen, really should be familiar to all who follow issues wildlife in the west, his reputation for honesty and integrity established over the decades. The most telling quote for me however was from the researcher that did the meta study, Courtney Larson, “We can’t make an assumption that recreation is a benign use of conserved lands,”.

    ATVs were on everyone’s bad boy list, and they as well as 4wd vehicles succumbed to early regulation. Mountain bikes kind of slipped in without a second look, using existing hiking trails and logging roads, they seemed to be only one more “quiet use”, now they as well as hiking are realized also be consumptive users.

    Maybe it’s time to limit use by seasons similar to hunting, 10 days then a week to recover and another 10 days then that’s it for the season except on roads also open to ATVs. Hikers and bird watchers on different days or trails. Long distance trail runners and dog walkers on a separate schedule. Licensure and tags to fund enforcement and research.

    My only disagreement on the article would be with how the public views animals like brown bears. Yes they are dangerous, and I think most people are entirely too lackadaisical in their habits in areas that contain animals that can eat you. A lot more respect for wildlife would be a good thing.

    • The recommendations include suggestions to stay vigilant, slow down, carry bear spray, make noise, don’t ride alone, never ride at dusk, dawn or night, don’t think “it won’t happen to me” and remember bears live there and you are just a visitor.

      Good advice, I don’t see any recommendations about categorical bans on biking or running.

      • Dr. Pysher, I think you’re doing a great job of intentionally trying to conflate this issue.

        For example, who has offered up “recommendations about categorical bans on running?” I did notice in the recent Outside Mag article Keith Hammer had this to say, in response to a proposed, organized 50K ultra running race/contest through large parts of the Flathead National Forest, meaning the USFS issue a special-use permit for the race.

        “Keith Hammer, chair of the environmental group Swan View Coalition, has been one of the loudest voices in the crusade against forest-sponsored races in northwest Montana. But his issue isn’t recreation as a whole in grizzly country. The trouble with mountain biking and running really amps up when ‘the Forest Service is part of the ringleaders and the cheerleaders and the booster club for it,’ he says.”

        However, what Hammer is advocating for is hardly “recommendations about categorical bans on running.”

        Speaking of bans, here’s what the Wilderness Act says about motor vehicles, motorized equipment and “other forms of mechanical transport:”

        The 1964 Wilderness Act (36 U.S.C. 1131-1136) banned all types of mechanized transport, including bicycles, in designated Wilderness. Section 4(c) of that act states, “[T]here shall be…no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”

        Since the Wilderness Act clearly stated [T]here shall be…no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area” it’s pretty clear that mountain bikes aren’t allowed in Wilderness. While I suppose in areas outside of Wilderness, recommended Wilderness or Wilderness Study Areas one could argue that hiking, or bird watching or picnicking or camping or pooping has an impact, none of those activities where banned by the Wilderness Act. So, saying (as mountain bikers like to do) that we should allow mountain bikes in Wilderness because the impact isn’t much greater than stuff that’s allowed sort of misses the main point that the Wilderness Act specifically banned motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, aircraft and forms of mechanical transport.

        A few points regarding hunting. The four grizzly bear attacks on hunters so far this year that you keep pointing out, all involved bow hunters. A few times you stated that they were rifle hunters. They were not. For a variety of reasons bow hunters deal with grizzly bears much more than rifle hunters. The general rifle hunting season in Montana is 5 weeks long. Running from late October until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. In some years, depending on weather of course, grizzly bears and black bears are already hibernating during part of the general rifle season. Also, as a hunter myself, I would be willing to not hunt in Wilderness areas or within grizzly bear habitat, if it were banned.

        • I’m unaware of stating what style of hunting the 4 hunters injured this year were engaged in. I don’t think it is relevant. Last year this attack in the Flathead was in November. https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/sep/20/hunter-accidentally-kills-grizzly-in-idaho/
          This grizzly was killed in Idaho recently https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/sep/20/hunter-accidentally-kills-grizzly-in-idaho/ by a bear hunter presumably using a rifle. The article I reference early today was bird season, so shotgun. Elk season in Wyoming begins as early as August 15 and Idaho is variable and rifle season starts as early as October 1st.

          I’m not sure why you bringing up wilderness. Wilderness and grizzly habitat are not equivalent. Mr. Treat was not in wilderness as the article and map you provided demonstrate. The two ultramarthons were not in wilderness.

          From the article,

          “Dr. Christopher Servheen, who led the committee that investigated Mr. Treat’s death, said the accident prompted him to speak out publicly against recreational sports in the areas where grizzlies live.”


          “We tell people not to run in grizzly bear habitat, to make noise and to be aware of their surroundings,”


          “Dr. Servheen also believes that the sensational news of a grizzly bear killing a bike rider works against the bear from a public relations standpoint.”

          So to reiterate, I see nothing in this article to suggest the Dr. Servheen was limiting his desire to limit running and biking applied only to designated wilderness. It seems quite clear that he is advocating for exclusion of these activities from all public lands where grizzlies are present, which if current trends hold will be all of western Montana and northern Idaho in the next decade.

          • FWIW: A previous comment by you stated “By any measure, you are far more likely to have a negative encounter when carrying a rifle than when pedaling. Four so far this season as I mentioned.”

            That’s where I assumed you were stating a style of hunting. No big deal if not.

            Also, the two articles you shared were about black bear hunters “accidentally” killing a grizzly bear. I’m 100% opposed to hunting of predators and 150% opposed to hunting of predators such as bears, wolves, mountain lions, etc in Wilderness. I also work for and/or with organizations that have a long history of taking action and/or advocating against predator hunting/trapping, especially in Wilderness.

            Finally, I fail to see any evidence that Dr. Christopher Servheen has offered up “recommendations about categorical bans on running and mountain biking.” I also think it’s totally false, misleading and quite a tremendous stretch for you to claim that it’s “quite clear that he is advocating for exclusion of these activities (running and mountain biking) from all public lands where grizzlies are present.

            Here’s Dr. Servheen’s contact information: https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1153

            I suggest you contact him and asking him if what you are claiming is correct. Thanks.

            • Take it as artistic license, much like when Stegner wrote, ” Thanks to some federal bureaus and the growing strength of environmental organizations, there will be always be some backcountry, and some of it will be roadless, barred to wheels.” should not necessarily be interpreted that he was tallking about anything beyond cars and other motorized vehicles. Maybe he was. maybe not.

              • Sorry Dr. Pysher, but I’m calling BS on your use of “artistic license” to make stuff up about Dr. Christopher Servheen. Also, that’s an interesting Stegner quote that has zero to do with what the Wilderness Act clearly says.

                P.S. I’m going to reach out to Dr. Servheen right now, because I have a feeling you’re too much of a coward to do that.

                • Ummm ok. Its clear my artistic license statement applied to rifles as a metaphor for hunting and wheels for cars.

                  As far as the black bear hunters. My point is people are out hunting with rifles beyond the Montana general rifle season.

                  If Dr. Servheen would like to clarify what he means that would be wonderful. It seems to me he is advocating for keeping mountain bikes off all trails in grizzly territory. If I’m incorrect. I stand to be corrected.

  6. Now here is an article about the start of hunting season.


    No lines about how some bow hunters revel in the ability to track the blood trail after their razor sharp broad heads sliced through the animal’s heart, or in the ability to take longer shots with the technological improved with laser range finders, carbon wrapped rifle barrels, muzzle breaks, and powerful scopes. No talk about how hunters wearing odor neutralizing camouflage and hiking off trail are predisposed to wandering inside a bear’s comfort zone. No discussion of whether it is wisen to be hunting while bears are in their hyperphagia phase. No mention of hunting pressure is forcing animals off public lands and on to private land refuges. No one arguing that there are plenty of other places to hunt. Instead the opposite, “Madel said every year he gets calls from people wanting to know where they can hunt along the Front without worrying about running into grizzly bears. As the bear population has slowly grown and expanded into historical territories, his answers have shortened. ‘Now I’m saying no place…'”

    It seemed every person quoted had their own unique hunter mauled by bear story.

    “It’s been three years since we had a grizzly bear run-in, but last fall we had to euthanize a female grizzly that was shot in the face with a shotgun at close range. Nobody reported that one.”

    This should not be construed that I’m anti-hunting. In fact, Saturday is also the start of antelope season and I will be out there at sunrise in the sagebrush of the Big Hole Valley trying once again to close enough to a pronghorn to take a shot.

    Instead I’m just amazed at the different way bear vs hunters are treated compared to the one bike vs grizzly encounter. Despite all the adverse encounters no one seems to be advocating for banning hunting or suggesting it is too dangerous. Instead it is accepted the encountering bears is a risk and and that hunters should take precautions and be bear safe.

  7. I’ve gotten kind of sensitive to “whataboutism” over the last couple of years. Do we need to talk about hikers and hunters in order to decide what to do about mountain bikes? Maybe. I would agree that consistent rationales would be a good thing, and that decisions should be made simultaneously if they are interdependent. Part of the problem is that a process and decision point applicable to mountain bike use is not obvious. For example, the Flathead National Forest did not consider the effects of opening grizzly bear habitat to mountain bike use in its revised forest plan EIS. On the other hand, a special use permit for a group activity would likely do that, but would make a decision only on the proposed use. It is interesting that USDI acknowledges that its decision to open trails to e-bikes would be implemented subject to NEPA requirements.

    • Whether it is “whataboutism” depends on how the issue is framed. Is it managing recreational impacts on wildlife, or mitigating mountain bike impacts on grizzlies on non wilderness trails, or is it strategies for region wide recovery or grizzly populations. it seems to me the most appropriate one is recreation impacts on wildlife, in which case how hikers and hunters and bikes are managed are all appropriate questions.

  8. Interesting discussion. I hope the attached recommendations from the Board of Review on the death of Mr. Brad Treat can help clarify what I and the other Board of Review members thought about how to better manage mountain biking in grizzly habitat. No where in this report will you find any “recommendations about categorical bans on running and mountain biking” in grizzly country.


    • Thanks for joining the conversation. Understanding people’s intents from reading articles can be fraught. It appears that I, along with many people in the mountain biking community, owe you an apology. We had interpreted your statements in recent articles in Outside and the Times as advocating for restrictions on mountain biking beyond the recommendations of the Board of Review.

      Those recommendations are eminently reasonable. Education for bikers and advocacy for bear safe riding is sage advice. Since any new trail building require at a minimum an EA, assessing for food sources, sight lines and the need for seasonal closures during critical seasons should clearly be included in the assessment. It seems this would sensible for any recreational user group in bear country.

      It almost makes me wonder why this became such an issue two years later when the recommendations seem to treat bikes like any other users with education and impact based management. I’m relieved to hear that no one is advocating for excluding mountain bikers from trails currently enjoy. Once again accept my apologies for misinterpreting your position.

      • RE: “Since any new trail building require at a minimum an EA”

        Just pointing out that the Sustainable Trails Coalition (the group that is fighting for mountain bikes and other human-powered, wheeled machines to be allowed in Wilderness) strongly supports the recent Trump administration USFS proposed NEPA Rule to greatly increase the use of Categorical Exclusions and essentially do away with a full NEPA review under an EIS or EA for the vast majority of Forest Service program work.

        In fact, in their official comments posted to their website, the Sustainable Trails Coalition argues that “Over-application of NEPA procedures could stymie mountain biking access….The proposed rulemaking would make that outcome less likely. STC therefore welcomes the proposal.”

        So, I’m not at all certain that the entire mountain biking community does support the concept that any future new trail building “require at a minimum an EA.” Certainly it appears as if plenty of mountain biking groups support using CE’s for adding mountain bikes to existing trails. And I highly doubt that such a CE would “assess for food sources, sight lines and the need for seasonal closures during critical seasons.”

        Also, somewhat related, I did noticed that in the Sustainable Trails Coalition’s “Statement on the Interior Department E-Bike Order of Aug. 29” the STC claims “Mountain biking, unlike e-bike use, is authorized by the Wilderness Act…”

        That’s just a bald-face lie. Here’s a link to the actual text of the Wilderness Act.

        • “That’s just a bald-face [sic] lie.”

          Based on your renowned legal expertise, one assumes.

          Matthew, why are you so angry all the time? It can’t be good for your health. Maybe you should get out into the backcountry and decompress.

          • Thanks for the edit, concern for my health and your anonymous put down.

            Please put your “renowned legal expertise” to use and show us where “Mountain biking, unlike e-bike use, is authorized by the Wilderness Act.”

            I’ll wait. Thanks.

            • You’re welcome. I do worry.

              I think there are something like four law review articles now that have persuasively shown that the Wilderness Act authorizes (or at least doesn’t prohibit) mountain biking. Those are probably listed somewhere on the STC website. If there are any articles that disagree with the pro-biking articles, I haven’t run across them online. Silence, assuming there hasn’t been a response, speaks volumes.

              • No, you actually don’t worry. You’re just being an anonymous dickhead and trying to make this about me personally. Please knock it off so we can discuss public lands policy here. Thanks.

                The Sustainable Trails Coalition said ““Mountain biking, unlike e-bike use, is authorized by the Wilderness Act.”

                That’s a lie. It’s not true and I challenge you to find anywhere in the Wilderness Act where mountain biking is authorized.

                Also, Wilderness scholars and defenders of the Wilderness Act and America’s National Wilderness Preservation System have not be silent on this issue, so your last point doesn’t make sense.

                P.S. The 1964 Wilderness Act (36 U.S.C. 1131-1136) banned all types of mechanized transport, including bicycles, in designated Wilderness. Section 4(c) of that act states, “[T]here shall be…no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”

        • Can we just agree to disagree on the meaning of “mechanical transportation” ? Posting the text of the wilderness act isn’t going to clarify the issue any more that handing someone a pocket constitution is going to change anyone’s mind on whether the second amendment prevents governmental regulation of tactical rifles/ modern sporting rifles / assault rifles. Anyways it is getting off topic.

          Instead I’ll comment on categorical exclusions since that has been a topic here on the Smokey Wire. In general I suspect most mountain bike groups would like to streamline the trail building process, and that in many cases categorical exclusions are perfectly reasonable. Most National Forest are not grizzly territory to otherwise critical wildlife habitat. Does that mean that aren’t exceptions where higher scrutiny is appropriate? Of course there are, I know few mountain bikers or organizations that want to build trails at the expense of wildlife, and new trails in areas of high grizzly density certainly seems like a flag that most line officers would acknowledge needs addressing.

          • RE: “new [bicycle] trails in areas of high grizzly density certainly seems like a flag that most line officers would acknowledge needs addressing.”

            Maybe so, maybe not. After all, the U.S. Forest Service is using categorical exclusions for industrial logging projects in grizzly bear habitat and lynx habitat and I’m sure the habitat of other imperiled species. I’m also sure we could find plenty examples of where CE’s are being for livestock grazing and oil and gas development in critical wildlife habitat. So this gives me little faith that, if the Trump administration gets their way, that any new trails (or to be honest, much of any hard-core resource extraction on federal public lands) will need a full EIS.

            I appreciate that some mountain biking groups, and individual mountain bikers, have somewhat recently taken an interest in NEPA, NFMA, the ESA and the overall management of America’s federal public lands; however, many of the forest, wildlife and Wilderness protection groups have been deeply immersed in these issues across the board for three or four decades now. And the comprehensive tabs they collectively keep on the federal land management agencies is impressive. For example, compare the 200+ page comments, plus numerous appendices, submitted by a broad coalition of forest, wildlife and Wilderness protection groups on the U.S. Forest Service’s “Proposed Rule, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance (84 Fed. Reg. 27,544)” with the 1 to 3 pages sent by some mountain biking groups that want more trails on public lands and/or want to ride their bicycles in Wilderness. When it comes to the breath and scope of NEPA knowledge, I think in this case, size (of the official comments) matter.

            • I think it more likely reflects the financial resources and staffing levels of the organizations. If there are more than 5 full time employees for all the mountain bike clubs I would be surprised. None of them have the resources to pay for NEPA lawyers and unlike many environmental organizations get no pro bono legal services. All those comments by the mountain biking community were likely written by inexperienced volunteers doing the best they can to learn the system in their spare time.

              • Speaking of financial resources, the Sustainable Trails Coalition stated in an April 2018 news article that they’ve spent over $200,000 on lobbying members of Congress. And that was as of 1 1/2 years ago.

                For whatever it’s worth, I know of dozens of forest, wildlife and Wilderness protection groups that could only dream of having $200,000 to spend on anything, much less hiring lobbyists.

                Also, you are basically making my point, which is that the forest, wildlife and Wilderness protection groups have extremely experienced NEPA experts and attorneys within their ranks.

                • I don’t think anyone is surprised that these groups have NEPA experts, anymore that it is not surprising that mountain bike groups don’t. The goals of the organizations are focused on different areas, and in general I would venture environmental groups focus on influencing government agencies and mountain bikers build and maintain trails. They have different goal and mission statements that require different expertise

                  You seem to be very focused on STC. They are set up as a lobbying organization so that’s where they spend their money. That is their mission.

                  For what it is worth for 2018 here are what enivromental groups spent lobbying. They seem to be very well represented
                  Nature Conservancy $1.7 million
                  Partnership for Conservation $1.1 million
                  National Wildlife Federation $1 million
                  Environmental Defense Fund $1 million
                  Natural Resources Defense Council $900,000
                  Wilderness Society $770,000
                  World Wildlife Fund $550,000
                  Earthjustice $470,000
                  Sierra Club $470,000
                  Southern Environmental Law Center $430,000

                  If some mountain bikers want to spend $100,000 a year for lobbying that doesn’t seem to be outrageous, and any ways I think STC has spent around $250,000 over the last 5 or so years. So I think it is more like $50,000 a year.

                  • For whatever it’s worth…A large chunk of the lobbying money you posted coming from “environmental groups” is actually used to lobby for stuff a bunch of forest, wildlife and wilderness protection groups are against, and against a bunch of stuff forest, wildlife and wilderness protection groups are for. But that’s a topic for another day.

                    Also, I agree with you that “I would venture environmental groups focus on influencing government agencies and mountain bikers build and maintain trails.” Again, that makes my point that perhaps when it comes to discussing huge changes to NEPA the forest, wildlife and Wilderness protection groups have a lot more expertise, skills and decades of knowledge. Anyway, here’s to the weekend….

  9. I mountain bike. I hike. I hunt. I spend tons of time in remote, wild places inhabited by wild grizzlies around my home in western Montana.

    I think this is a good, thought-provoking article. The fact is that grizzly bears occupy less than 2-percent of their historic range and face numerous threats from growing human population, expansion and encroachment, as well as continued impacts to their habitat (particularly to traditional food sources such as whitebark pine nuts, moths, cutthroat trout) from climate change.

    Although grizzly bears populations may be growing in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, contrary to popular belief the population is not growing in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Numbers there have remained stable, and perhaps even declined, during the past ten years or so. They are expanding, in search of other food sources, and getting into more conflict with people. This is leading to the death of more and more bears. (Thirty have been killed this year in the Yellowstone ecosystem alone.)

    Bears do not reproduce quickly. Mortality is a big deal, particularly when a breeding-age sow is removed from the population. The removal of mature boars can have impacts to territorial and breeding behavior and result in a lot of long-term, negative consequences to bear populations.

    I think the key quote in this New York Times articles is this: “Dr. Servheen says other research and many thousands of hours of field observations by biologists show how much bears are aware of the presence of people. A bear’s ‘distribution can be dramatically affected by human use of the landscape,’ said Dr. Servheen, especially mountain bikes because they cover so much territory. ‘Bears may change their home range, they may change their movement pattern, they may avoid certain areas. They may become nocturnal, or females with cubs might avoid those areas.’”

    The death of Brad Treat was a very rare occurrence. Although an estimated 1,000 grizzlies live within northwest Montana, this was the first fatal grizzly bear attack on a human in northwest Montana since 2001, when an elk hunter was killed by a grizzly on the Blackfoot Clearwater Game Range near Ovando, Montana. Although Glacier National Park now receives about 2-million-plus visitors a year, there have been only 10 fatal attacks within the Park since it was created in 1910. To put things in perspective: During that same time period, 26-people have died within the park from car accidents; 48 people have drowned, and 23 have fallen to their deaths from cliffs. But such tragic accidents don’t affect the human psyche quite like bear attacks do, and, unfortunately, such statistics certainly don’t sooth the pain and suffering brought about by the horrific loss of friends, family and loved ones. There’s no about it: Wild grizzlies can be dangerous and entering wild grizzly country does come with some risk. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize those risks.

    As the article mentions, Servheen (who, for those who don’t know, is a grizzly bear biologists who served as the Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) was on the board of review that investigated the incident in which Brad Treat lost his life. Through DNA from hair samples found at the scene, officials identified the bear involved as an 18-20 year old male who had been captured near Camas Creek and released in 2006, as part of a research project, and had no history of human conflicts. At the time, the bear was recorded as being 8-10 years old and weighed 370 pounds. Since the investigation determined that the bear reacted naturally to a surprise encounter, fled the scene when it felt safe, did not consume any parts of Treat’ body, and was therefore not considered a “predatory” encounter, the bear was left alone and not hunted, trapped, moved or killed. The report concludes: “Bears involved in such surprise encounters are not captured or removed in most cases, even when the result of the encounter is serious injury or death to a human.”

    The investigation team offered advice and recommendations for state and federal land managers.

    “The unfortunate death of Mr. Brad Treat from a grizzly bear attack that was precipitated by a high-speed mountain bike collision between Mr. Treat and a bear necessitates increased attention to the dangers associated with mountain biking in black bear and grizzly bear habitat,” they wrote in their report. “There is a long record of human-bear conflicts associated with mountain biking in bear habitat including the serious injuries and deaths suffered by bike riders. . . Mountain biking is a quiet and fast activity that may cause you to get much too close to a bear before either you or the bear knows it, resulting in a surprise encounter and a defensive attack by a surprised bear. . . Current safety messaging at trailheads and in the media is usually aimed at hikers. However, mountain biking is in many ways more likely to result in injury or death from bear attacks to people who participate in this activity. In addition, there are increasing numbers of mountain bikers using bear habitat and pressure to increase mountain bike access to areas where black bear and grizzly bear encounters are very likely.”

    The report recommends that “before new trails are opened to mountain biking in bear habitat, particularly grizzly habitat, there should be careful evaluation of the safety and reasonableness of enhancing mountain bike access in these areas where bear density is high.” Evaluations should include considerations such as the nearby presence of food sources such as huckleberries, and the how thick brush might block trail visibility and increases chances for surprise encounters.

    Seems good, solid advice worthy of consideration. I think we should similarly evaluate all human recreational uses (hunting, fishing, hiking . . . all of it) in what little remains in secure grizzly and consider impacts and potential impacts and, when it comes to wild grizzlies, err on the side of caution for the sake of the bears.

  10. Ban horses.

    “At the peak of the season, we were seeing bears daily,” she said. “The wranglers name them so we can let each other know where they are. Usually the bears just keep feeding in the distance or they run away when we come. Just seeing them is a treat for us and our guests.”

    Because they guide around Glacier Park, bear awareness is part of the preparation wranglers get when hired by Swan Mountain Outfitters.

    “We go over a lot of wildlife scenarios in our training,” Bolster said. “We learn to watch our horses for signals of possible trouble so we can steer clear.”

    That’s the key, she said: Avoid trouble with a moose or a bear.

    “We can’t use pepper spray when we’re riding because that could blind the horse,” she said. “And using a gun would spook the horses and probably produce more danger than safety.”


  11. It’s completely legal to build a trail on Forest Service land using a CE right now, provided no extraordinary circumstances exist.

    “36 CFR 220.6(e)(1) Construction and reconstruction of trails.”


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