Are you advocating for bicycles on every trail in every Wilderness area?

No. You won’t see us advocating for bicycles on trails like the John Muir Trail and many others. We think local land managers should be empowered to do what works for a trail based on various factors, including current usage, the resources available for trail maintenance, and the possibility of repairing a neglected trail.

If either of these bills pass, will all trails in Wilderness areas be automatically open to bicycles?

No.  Both bills simply remove the blanket ban of bikes.  There are no rules in the Wilderness Act that prohibit camping within 100 feet of a stream, but local land managers can ban camping near streams when they have determined it is detrimental to the environment.  Similarly, hunting is banned in certain areas and in certain seasons, horses are prohibited on certain trails, and hiking is prohibited in certain temporary conditions. So if these bills are passed, the regulation of biking would be treated the same as the regulation of other activities that are permitted under the Wilderness Act yet prohibited when the local land manager deems those activities inappropriate.

Responses to 5 Arguments Against the Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act

This article was written by John Fisch on, and we like it so much that we're just going to link to the article:

What’s this about chainsaws? I like the idea of returning bikes to Wilderness, but chainsaws are motorized?

The chainsaw provision isn’t about cutting down live trees; it’s about responsible and necessary trail maintenance to remove dead trees lying across trails.

Since its enactment in 1964, the Wilderness Act has allowed the Forest Service to use chainsaws to efficiently clear tree blowdowns. There is evidence that the Forest Service disliked Wilderness designations in the 1970s, and it’s rumored it wanted to hamper new ones by making it too difficult to maintain Wilderness. One way to do this was to ignore the Act and require the impossible task of maintaining thousands of miles of Wilderness trails with primitive tools only.

Senator Frank Church, one of the great conservationists in American history, detected that the Forest Service was doing this. In 1977 he warned, “the Forest Service with its purist doctrine is trying to scuttle the Wilderness Act.”

The Forest Service’s refusal to use chainsaws to clear debris has, as Senator Church worried about, caused many trails to be abandoned. A Government Accountability Office report concluded in 2013 that the Forest Service could sustain only 25% of its trail mileage. This bill will nudge it to use its resources more efficiently. Yet if it persists in refusing, the bill won’t force it to do so.

Can federal land managers require a permit to limit the number of cyclists?

As Mount Whitney hikers know, federal land managers currently require permits for some Wilderness trails. If it is in a trail’s best interest, a manager could also require permits to control bicycle traffic. (And no, we don’t envision mountain bikers being allowed to carry a bike to the top of Mount Whitney, or wanting to try.)

Does this bill do anything other than what it says?

No. The bill is narrowly written to give on-scene federal land managers the authority to determine what types of human-powered travel, if any, are allowed on local trails, and to use modern handheld tools to maintain those trails. It stops there. There are no hidden agendas, loopholes, or other possible negative repercussions from this bill.  Please take the time to read the text and you can see that it is very focused on those two issues and carefully written.

But the bill says “and for other purposes.” ?

The “and for other purposes” language merely means that not all of the information about the bill can fit into the title.  To know what is in the bill, just read the bill itself.  These words are not part of the bill and do not create an open-ended law, and are commonly used when bills are introduced.  “And for other purposes” is simply a way to shorten the title or description of what the bill does.

In summary, “It’s not a bait-and-switch".

Some might say Senators Lee and Hatch are not the usual advocates for Wilderness

Senators Lee and Hatch, both from Utah, deserve congratulations for doing the right thing for Wilderness and Wilderness visitors. The senators introduced the bill courageously, knowing that not everyone would agree with all aspects of it.

Doing the right thing for trails has nothing to do with being Republican or Democrat. The bill will benefit mountain bikers by returning access that should not have been revoked.  The bill will benefit hikers, equestrians and other trail users by improving trail maintenance and sustainability.   The bill isn’t partisan, which will become even more apparent when Democrats co-sponsor it and eventually vote for it.  Supporters of all political viewpoints need to let every Senator and Representative know they should co-sponsor the bill and vote to reverse the blanket ban.

Why the Two-Year Timetable to Decide on Trail Access?

The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act is written in such a way that a U.S. Forest Service ranger who runs an area as small as a ranger district can set up a meeting with local interested parties, perhaps via e-mail and a newspaper ad or article. Then the ranger and interested people will sit down at a table with maps and work out where mountain biking and baby-strollers are likely to be problem-free.

The bill does not require long, expensive public hearings with lawyers in attendance, followed by the national forest issuing a 200-page report five years later, followed by a decade of appeals. Such overkill is completely unnecessary for so minor a decision, i.e., where bicycles, baby strollers, and hunters’ hand-walked game carriers can go. All of these devices have a minimal environmental impact. Any social impact will be manageable, or the ranger won’t permit the use (or can revoke it if a problem arises).

So the bill envisions a relatively informal pilot program with a government employee having a lot of flexibility.

If the forest ranger fails to act in two years then the pilot program would begin automatically. But even then, the ranger would retain full authority to decide on allowed uses, just as he or she did before the two-year period expired. He or she could say no mountain biking and that would be that, whether before or after two years.

Without a deadline, there’s no enforcement mechanism to get federal agencies to take any action. Years could go by in which agencies prepare elaborate and needless plans to decide on trail access, only to arrive at a stalemate and do nothing to implement them. The years-long failure to reroute the Continental Divide Trail at Lujan Pass in Colorado is a perfect example of what can happen—i.e., nothing, despite (and because of) endless and unproductive wrangling and arguing. See, e.g.,

Some have argued that the two year time limit is too short.  With 765 Wilderness areas, 765 different people can quickly and easily make these determinations - it need not progress sequentially.  Additionally, with the recent White Clouds & Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness areas, they had a three year time limit to create an entire 'wilderness management plan'.   If USFS can create an entire wilderness plan in 3 years, they can make a simple determination whether a trail is appropriate for bike travel in two years.

Wilderness Is Only a Small Percentage of Public Land. Why Make a Fuss Over It?

One could ask the same question of the opponents of relaxing human-powered travel bans in Wilderness. The answer, of course, is that much Wilderness is beautiful, scenic, remote, challenging country, far from the noise and hubbub of civilization. We would like to visit it by bicycle for the same reasons our opponents don’t want us to do that—at its best, it’s iconic.

Denying mountain bikers access to Wilderness on the ground that it’s relatively little land overlooks that much, probably most, public land is vast, trackless terrain with little scenic appeal. Few mountain bikers desire to struggle over thousands of square miles of arid, treeless BLM land in Nevada, Arizona, and Wyoming with no trails and lots of sagebrush. Nor would hikers or equestrians want to do that.

Where does STC stand on EBikes?

STC seeks to restore Congress’s vision for Wilderness travel, not undermine it. In the Wilderness Act of 1964, Congress said visitors are not allowed to operate “motor vehicles” or “motorized equipment.” E-bikes fall into one or both of these categories, so STC would oppose any legislative effort to introduce them into Wilderness. (We don’t know of any such effort and think it’s unlikely one will be made.)

More information on STC’s position is available here.

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