The Department of Interior E-bike Rules: the Next Step, Public Comment on BLM, FWS and BoR

Thanks to Brian Hawthorne for this link to an E&E News story.

The proposed rules unveiled today by NPS, BLM, FWS and Reclamation come in response to an order Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed last August directing the agencies to develop policies for e-bike usage as part of a strategy to increase access to public lands.

Bernhardt clarified his intent in a second order issued last fall that directed BLM, FWS and Reclamation to follow the National Park Service’s lead and allow e-bikes where appropriate (E&E News PM, Oct. 22, 2019).

The proposed rules unveiled today would not allow e-bikes where they are already prohibited, such as in wilderness areas.

  • BLM’s proposed rule would add e-bikes to its off-road vehicle regulations. Doing so would allow individual bureau land managers to authorize, or prohibit, the use of e-bikes on BLM lands.”We want all Americans to have a chance to create life-long memories exploring and enjoying the great outdoors,” BLM acting Director William Perry Pendley said in a statement.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule would open the door to allowing e-bikes at the nearly 200 national wildlife refuges it manages that already allow non-motorized bicycling. The wildlife refuge managers would be required to determine that e-bikes are “a compatible use on roads or trails.””If approved, the rule will make it easier for visitors to explore these amazing places, with a bit of added assistance, if they need it,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith said in a statement.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed rule would, like BLM’s proposal, add a definition of e-bikes to off-road regulations on Reclamation sites.”This is an important rule that will give more Americans access to lands that they may not have been able to access before,” Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a statement.
  • NPS did not release a copy of its proposed rule, as the other three agencies did. But in a press release announcing the rule, the park service said the rule would “define the term ‘electric bicycle’ and allow superintendents to authorize e-bike use — generally “where traditional bicycles” are already allowed. That would include “public roads, parking areas, administrative roads and trails,” it said.


I looked at the BLM proposed regulation for an explanation of what it does and found this:

This proposed rule would not, on its own, change the existing allowances for ebike usage on BLM-administered public lands. In other words, no additional e-bike use would be allowed on BLM-administered public lands as a direct result of this proposed rule becoming effective. Rather, the proposed rule directs the BLM to specifically consider e-bike usage in future land use planning or implementation-level decisions. This new paragraph also provides the authorized officer with discretion to determine whether e-bike use generally, or the use of certain classes of e-bikes, would be inappropriate on certain roads or trails. While the BLM believes that increasing public access to public lands through the use of e-bikes would generally be appropriate on roads and trails upon which mechanized, non-motorized use is permitted, there are certain instances where that is not the case. For example, some trails may be particularly steep or narrow and the use of an e-bike at speeds higher than originally intended could present a danger to some users. In some situations, legislation or a presidential proclamation may restrict motorized use of a trail. Another example of where e-bike use might be limited is a non-motorized trail that originates on BLM public land and feeds into a trail system under the jurisdiction of another agency that does not allow e-bike use on that trail.

Proposed paragraph (d) of this section would allow the BLM the flexibility to utilize local knowledge and determine the propriety of e-bike use on site-specific basis.

It appears to be a rule that defines the categories of e-bikes, and gives e-bikes their own definition outside of other motorized vehicles, generally encourages them where bikes are allowed, and leaves the ultimate discretion to the local official. There are four separate rules, NPS, BLM, FWS, and Bureau of Reclamation. It will be interesting to see if they come out differently. What do you think, is it better to a) have a rule like this that makes distinctions between classes of bike, and between them and other motorized vehicles and encourages local officials to incorporate them, b) have a rule like this (with definitions) that is neutral or discouraging, or c) not have a rule at all, like the Forest Service (I guess?). Not sure what FS policies are currently vis a vis e-bikes. I wonder if it would make sense to try to harmonize the FS somewhat with BLM, at least in western States. Here’s a Dec 19 story about e-bikes on the White Mountain in New Hampshire.

11 thoughts on “The Department of Interior E-bike Rules: the Next Step, Public Comment on BLM, FWS and BoR”

  1. I went back to the TMR and found this definition:
    “Motor vehicle means any vehicle which is self-propelled, other than:
    (1) A vehicle operated on rails; and
    (2) Any wheelchair or mobility device, including one that is batterypowered,
    that is designed solely for use y a mobility-impaired person for locomotion and that is suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area.”

    I guess I could see e-bikes as a bit of an intermediate form since their use can be mostly, but not entirely, self-propelled.
    The California site also says that trails can be opened to ebikes via NEPA decisions, which at the end of the day will probably be the result of the Interior rules (local decisions). Part of the reason for the TMR was to provide generic guidance and then let the local units deal with it. So perhaps the Interior Rules are a bit of the same kind of thing (except for the guidance of encouragement).

  2. I’m seeing this as an incomplete rule. It leaves too much discretion to the land managers for my preference. I’m glad to have an opportunity to comment. I think my comment will address the lack of a time limit for managers to comply with appropriate ebike evaluation for existing trail systems that aren’t currently due for any evaluation. Those systems where RMP level planning has already taken place. These trail systems are often the exact places where ebike riders would like to ride. They would like to ride these places they used to enjoy with family and friends. The lack of a timeline for land managers to comply allows them to postpone ebike evaluation for years-long periods, which I contend would be counter to the intent of the Secretarial Order.

    The other issue I see is the rule doesn’t contain definitive criteria describing trails, terrain, or social/environmental that would rule out ebike access. Without that specific definitive criteria I’m afraid the door is open for land managers to concoct virtually any and all reasons, logical or not, to prohibit ebike access. These prohibitions could also become indefinite, rather than being reevaluated periodically.

    I’m glad to have the opportunity to comment. Otherwise I feel this half-baked rule may be implemented in such a way it would actually foster actions counter to the Secretarial Order. I realize many people would like that to happen.

  3. Let’s be real.

    On the trails in my area, half of the velocipedes are now e-bikes. Even on the easiest trail I ordinarily ride (which is of moderate difficulty).

    The federal agencies can promulgate all of the rules they want.

    The fact on the ground is that wherever human-powered bicycles are being ridden, so will e-bikes be. And there’s going to be minimal, if any, law enforcement to stop it, except on places like the Yosemite Valley floor.

    That includes Wilderness areas and National Scenic Trails like the Pacific Crest Trail, which also in theory ban mountain biking, while mountain bikers ride there regularly.

    Do I welcome this situation? No. Does it surprise me? No.

    The Wilderness and PCT purists missed their chance to get human-powered mountain bikers and the Forest Service on on board with a well-regulated system of limited human-powered mountain biking in the areas they think they’re safeguarding.

    Now, it is too late.

    Now, it’ll be a self-regulated open-to-all system in many areas of Wilderness and National Scenic Trails, e-bikes included.

    Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” To borrow from it, those who have given up flexibility to purchase temporary purity, will enjoy neither flexibility nor purity.

    • Wow, so when mountain bikers illegally ride their bicycles in Wilderness (which you claim is happening right now) that’s not the fault of the person illegally riding the bicycle, it’s the fault of “Wilderness purists?”

      And these supposed “Wilderness purists” are also to blame for E-bikes? Okay…got it.

      Some of you people who have the ability and resources to spend $5,000 on a bicycle and want desperately to ride your expensive bicycle in Wilderness really have a self-entitled view.

      • Matthew, I’m offering a normative-value–free reality check, which you are free to disregard in favor of an illusion that mountain biking doesn’t take place in Wilderness and that e-biking won’t start to take place there either.

        Actually, mountain biking doesn’t take place in Wildernesses where (1) there are too many people or (2) the trails have disappeared. If you want to keep mountain biking out of the remoter Wilderness areas, it’s not that hard. Just let the trails continue to grow over.

        And no, nothing is the “fault” of Wilderness purists. It is merely that you all have miscalculated, which was entirely predictable.

        I hate to tell you this, but some of these mountain bikes are running more around $10,000 these days.

        Thank you as always for taking time to engage in dialogue.

        • Truth be known:

          I originally wrote $10,000…then erased that and went down to $7,500…then erased that and went with $5000, which I posted because I figured I wouldn’t get criticized for that figure by someone. Just can’t win with everyone, I guess.

    • Lance and Matthew,
      Just to be clear, I am not for mbs or ebs in Wilderness. I am for local folks figuring out where to put Wilderness, cherry stems, other designations, etc. I don’t actually believe “we” need more Wilderness- I think at this point “getting more Wilderness” has become more of a political football, or ideological rallying point, than a land use designation- those tedious convos about who should be in and who out and the rationales.

      I think that there is perhaps a larger issue here. One is that I am not entirely sure that many MBers know where the boundaries to Wilderness are (they may zoom past the signs). Perhaps that is an education problem of MB groups? But not all MBers belong to MB groups…so

      At the same time, there are “dogs on leash” rules in some areas, including Wilderness, that I see people ignoring all the time.

      So I think part of the reality of rules in (even at your county open space) is that they are not/can’t be carefully enforced, except by a presence (drones?LE walking the trails) that would be more intrusive than people would like to see (at least not in Wilderness.) So, like stay-at-home orders, they work because there are people naturally given to follow rules and while not everyone obeys them, enough do to make a difference.

      So I do think the reality of rules versus the idea of rules, and opportunities for better enforcement are worthy of further discussion.

    • Hi, Greg,

      I think I was discussing the proposed rules by putting the subject in perspective (my perspective, anyway), namely that government agencies may create rules, but whether people follow them depends on how sensible and practical they are.

      For example, the extent to which people follow the coronavirus-mitigation rules currently in effect in most of the country will depend on how carefully thought out and well-tailored those rules are.

      I agree with you that Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s order directed federal land management agencies to permit e-bikes wherever human-powered bicycles may go, and that (based on my quick read of them) the agencies’ proposals don’t entirely comply with his order.

      But again, I think it will make no practical difference whether the political appointee (Bernhardt) or the bureaucracies (BLM, NPS, FS, USFWS) get their way. E-bikes will go anywhere bicycles go and both will go to certain places that agencies have told them not to through foolish and overbroad regulations, unless there’s a citation-wielding ranger on a sufficient number of trails.


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